Distinctive. Disarming. Delightful. Delicious. Daunting? LOTS of words came to mind (with the help of my FB friends) once they helped me decide that dialogue was the right word to use in this post. And why not? Dialogue is a writer’s best friend. It helps us develop a distinctive voice for each character. It can disarm the reader and catch him/her off guard. The right dialogue can add delightful tidbits about the story in a way that isn’t didactic and stodgy. And…
Dialogue can be a delicious way to add excitement and sensory detail into an otherwise dry scene. I think dialogue ROCKS, but for some it can be so daunting it impedes the flow of thought, thereby making any scene feel unnatural and forced.
I’m working on two pieces right now. Editing my cozy mystery is at the top of my priority list. The end of June is nipping at my heels and I like to make my publisher happy by meeting deadlines. In the works is also a MG piece written in free-verse. Both call for strong dialogue (what piece doesn’t)? Every word must count. Each word has a job, and if a word isn’t being useful I have to boot it out. That’s another one of our jobs–making sure our words keep up their end of the bargain. If not, sadly, we have to hit them with a pink slip, or in their case, the delete button.
I’ll admit, I am in the “I love to write dialogue” camp (now). However, I had to claw my way out of the dialogue ditch before arriving at the ‘Wow. I can dig it!’ place in my writing.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the word dialogue in a first edition hardback copy of The Random House College Dictionary. It says: Conversation between two or more persons or between characters in a novel, drama, etc.
This definition is precise and succinct. However, this one little word–dialogue–can give writers fits. Why?
I have a theory. Let me try it out on you. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the subject.
I think many of us struggle with dialogue because we’re afraid of our characters. WHAT? Debbie, you’re crazy. We created these people! We typed life into them. We are the Dr. Frankenstein’s of the literary world!
Yeah, well, maybe. Regardless, I believe developing a character can be daunting, and developing their dialogue can be downright terrifying. I’ll tell you why. When I first started writing, I started with some ethereal, broad idea. Wanting to write mysteries, I focused on the actions in the story. The creaks, the moans, the murder! Sound good? It wasn’t. It was one-dimensional, flat, and it flopped all over the place like a fish out of water. You know why? Some of you are nodding your heads. You’re already way ahead of me, aren’t you?
Get to Know Your Characters!
Of course it was one-dimensional. I hadn’t taken the time to get to know my characters. As a result, I had no idea what was supposed to come out of their mouths in the form of brilliant dialogue. Did I have great action beats? NO. Did I have chemistry? NO. Did I have a story that kept the reader flipping pages? Big Fat NO.
Moral of the story? Learn your characters, and listen to them talk. Once you know them well enough to sit on your porch and shoot the bull with them, you can relax. Kick off your shoes and go inside for a glass of sweet tea and an orange scone. Let them chat, rave, giggle, snort (some do, you know). The important thing is to let them converse. After that, all you have to do is brush away the scone crumbs, grab your keyboard, and record what they’re saying. They’ll do all the work. All you have to do is write it down. *wink*
Let’s take a poll. Who among us loooooooves to write dialogue? Who hates it and would rather do housework? Chime in!
About Debbie Archer:
Debbie writes humorous fiction for both adult and middle grade audiences. While her work is often sprinkled with humor, her topics are candid and carry messages of healing. Two writers’ groups offer her firm direction and unlimited support. She holds a Master’s Degree in Library Science and a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and has published in both fields. Her home is in a nestled-up part of Arkansas with her incredibly patient husband and a band of rescue animals.
Professional afflictions include ALA, International Reading Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, ACFW, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America.
Among her favorite authors are Christopher Paul Curtis, Regina Rudd Merrick, Kate DiCamillo, Melody Carlson, Christine Lynxwiler, Tara Johnson, Talya Tate Boerner, Karen Kingsbury, Sheila Turnage, Jan Karon, and of course Dr. Seuss.
Her compass verse is Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Feel free to visit her at www.debbiearcher.com