Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Writing Effective Dialogue #2 of 2

Here are some more dialogue tips. You might want to read the previous blog first to get the context. Enjoy.

Structure and Formality
Alex smiled, “Great. Okay, we’ve talked about staying focused as well as the art of digressing. What else adds to effective dialogue? Franklin?”
“I was thinkin’ ‘sentences,’ you know?”
An awkward pause.
“What, specifically, about sentences?”
“Well, dere’s a certain way, ya know, when some people write, that the sentences are structured. But it’s different when ya talk.”
Stacy agreed. “I think I know what you’re saying, Alex. When people speak, they don’t always use correct grammar, they talk in sentences that have a shorter number of words, they use more contractions and they sometimes blur words together. Consequently, in order for sentences to sound natural to our ears, we need to write them in such a way that they’re not too structurally complex or intricately woven.”
“Mm, hmm,” said Moesha.
“Right,” said Alex. “Now we’re getting into the nuts and bolts of dialogue writing. When people speak, they’re less formal. So, keep your sentences brief. And use contractions more often and more consistently than you would in the narrative sections of your story. And, use more idioms.”
“All right,” said Stacy, “I think we get your drift.”
“Clear as mud,” said Nadine.

Consistency and Redundancy
For a few minutes no one said anything. Finally, Jason broke the silence. “Something I don’t think we’ve really mentioned yet, is that each character should speak in a consistent and distinctive voice. When you listen to some TV shows, everyone sounds exactly the same. They use the same idioms. They speak in the same style sentences. They crack the same kind of jokes. That’s evidence of poor writing. And the same thing can happen in fiction--and nonfiction--if you’re not careful. Good dialogue reflects the uniqueness of each of the story characters. Their grammar, word choice, and sense of humor can all be unique.”
Moesha nodded. “Mm, hm.”
“Great,” said Alex. “And there’s one more thing I need to mention that’s a pet peeve of mine.”
“Was dat?” asked Franklin.
“It’s annoying when the writer tries to show off by using all sorts of different words to talk about the dialogue. Attributions should disappear so the reader hardly ever notices them.”
“Yeah,” exclaimed Stacy, “I hate that, too.”
“Me, too,” chipped in Nadine.
“Mm, hm,” rejoined Moesha.
“That’s so true!” observed Jason.
“Yo,” quipped Franklin.
“Great,” summarized Alex. “So we all agree. Let’s not do that. It just distracts the reader. Just use ‘said’ and be done with it.”
“Something else that distracts me,” said Jason, “Is when the same author uses the same word too much in the same sentence or in the same paragraph.”
“I agree,” agreed Franklin.
“And don’t restate what’s already been said,” said Nadine. “It’s redundant to keep restating everything.”
“Yeah, and you don’t need to keep re-saying the same thing in different ways. Either say it, or explain it, but not both,” explained Alex.

Pace and Flow
Nadine scribbled something in her notebook and then looked up at Jason. “In your fiction writing, have you ever used a question to get a conversation going?”
“Sometimes, yeah. Questions can be good conversation starters. So can observations about the setting--by that I mean the surroundings--or responses to dramatic situations. All of those things can be used to spark a conversation.”
Stacy cleared her throat. “I’ve noticed something else, Nadine. Sometimes when only two people are carrying on a conversation, you don’t need to include attributions at all because the reader will naturally be able to keep the speakers straight, just by the flow of the conversation.”
“Really?” asked Nadine.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.”
“They won’t get confused about who’s talking?”
“No,” said Stacy. “You can trust your readers. Tell ‘em only what they need to know.”
Jason agreed. “You got it, Stacy. It’s an insult to the readers when the author always identifies the speaker. Most of the time, context speaks for itself.”
Stacy beamed and glanced down at the table.

Alex smiled broadly. “Okay, then. To summarize: good dialogue expresses something about the characters, moves the story forward, is natural-sounding, easy-to-read--”
“Rather than cumbersome,” interjected Stacy.
“Right. And yet there’s an artistry to it. Sometimes you gotta break the rules in order to make the story work.”
“Mm, hm,” said Moesha finishing up her burger. “What’s for dessert?”
“Plot,” said Alex. “But not until next week.”


Deseree said...

I appreciate the creative ways you teach, Steven. Here's a question (seemingly unrelated): how on earth do you pronounce "Lien-Hua"?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these. I'm going to print them out and add them to my writing file.

Tanya said...

Thanks for the tip... I'm learning a great deal from you.