The Ultimate Dialogue Series: Part 1!
Dialogue: some love it, some hate it, some incorrectly spell it “dialog”. Whatever your preference and passion, in writing dialogue is inevitable.
Personally, I love dialogue. If I could write just dialogue my life would be complete. Alas, there is very little that can be done in writing with just dialogue (if you know of a profession that is about just dialogue, drop me a line).
I honed my dialogue craft when writing comics. For me, the plotting was separate from the dialogue since I had to write the dialogue to match certain panel layouts. I also found it was easier to know the characters by doing dialogue as I plotted out the book. I encourage you to pick up a comic book, or graphic novel, and read it just for the dialogue. Try to ignore the pretty pictures. Good comic books have great dialogue.
Behold! Techniques to enhance your dialogue and make you loved or feared or both!
Each of the concepts below build on each other, so no skipping ahead!
First, I’d like you to do a writing exercise. Take five minutes and write a dialogue scene.
Two people talking about religion.
Set a timer. Ready? Set. Go!
Times up! Continue on.
If you're looking for an example of dialogue and the techniques I use, you can read my award winning short story Down The Line
Dialogue isn’t about two characters communicating, it’s about the writer communicating with the reader.
Whether you believe that writing comes from you or that you are merely a vessel channelling the cosmic will of the universe, it’s always about you. These characters are inside you, they are a part of you, when they speak it’s you saying something to the reader.
These are your thoughts on the character, their motivations, feelings, attitude, and perspective. It is your voice. So if you think or worry your dialogue is bland, boring, repetitive, start there. Ask yourself, what are you trying to communicate to your reader? If you’re 100% sure you know what you’re trying to say to the reader, you’re doing it wrong.
Wait, what? Read on…
Dialogue isn’t only about people talking.
Dialogue is the events that lead up to the talking, the talking, the reactions, and what happens after. So many writers forget that dialogue is part of the larger narrative. Rather than just having a wall of dialogue lead into it with a description of the location, the people, the plot, the colour of the sun, anything.
Intersperse reactions between characters (not after each line since that would be distracting).
After a dialogue session, you can have a character internally analyze the discussion.
Did Angie really mean to say that he had killed her mother with a pinecone? It was preposterous. No one could kill a buffalo with a pinecone.
Or leave the reader hanging on the last word.
The marshall turned his head, spat in the dirt, squinted against the setting sun. “I’m gonna find that knife and when I do, I’m gonna use it to skin you alive.” [End of Chapter]
Know your characters and bring out those characteristics in their voice
This is a toughie because a lot of the time, we are developing characters as we write. We’re discovering who they are and what their personalities are. That’s okay, though. We can fix that in post.
For example, is your character:
“So yesterday I was walking to school, you know, by the park where that huge dog is always barking, like every day all day - I think it’s probably a white lab or maybe a great pyrenees cross, yeah definitely a white lab - and I saw across the field like a thousand gulls attacking, like just shredding this McDonald’s bag…”
“That’s not possible. There couldn’t have been a thousand, fifty at most, but that’s it.”
“A thousand? Are they still there? Can we go?”
“Do you think they taste better deep fried or baked?”
The personalities might change as you write and that’s okay. Keep writing. When it comes time to edit, rewrite the dialogue to suit the characters