Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To Dialogue or Not to Dialogue

I'm reading along, happy as a pup getting its first ear rub. The story is pulling me in, the characters not only personalized but also personal . . . and then I turn the page. No dialogue. There's a sea of narrative swarming before my eyes. I'm perplexed. I'm disappointed. I'm vexed. I begin to skim ahead and surreptitiously flip the next page just to see if there's some dialogue a-comin'. Some relief. Interest. Story. People-building. Know what I mean?

Truthfully, it doesn't matter much to me if this narrative is regarding the new daffodil blooms, or an action packed dogfight. Although an action sequence can be fab, it's still narrative. Can I last until someone talks again?

Having made the point that dialogue is one of the keys to pacing, I should also point out that all dialogue and no narrative is equally stinky. Balance is important.

When you're writing dialogue, keep it intense and fresh. If you were to record a real conversation between two people word for word, it would be dull reading. Make certain your characters move the scene forward when they talk. Every word must build characterization, conflict, or lead to meaningful interaction. Otherwise, the delete key is called for.

Know to your core what each character would say and how they'd say it. Your heroine who has lived wild in the woods since the age of two is not going to emerge reciting Shakespeare any more than she would have the manners of Emily Post.

Treat dialect, accents and speech differences with kid gloves. Unless you're personally steeped in those nuances, you run the risk of offending someone else who lives them. Once again, balance is important. Your character who stutters will pull your reader out of the story if every other word is sh-shown as a stu-stutter. Less is more.

In a later post, I'll share my opinion of dialogue tags and beats.

It's all better with friends.

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