Tuesday, May 12, 2009


For any one who cares, Lady Glamis inspired this post, in an offbeat kind of way.

Lately, in the comments of the gazillion blogs I follow, I've noticed quite a few comments (go figure) about dialogue. For me, dialogue is one of the easiest parts of writing. I love, love, LOVE writing dialogue. My mind is filled with endless conversations for my characters to have in any type of situation. I love the emotions behind the words, and the interplay of words in dialogue. Not everybody has this love of writing dialogue. For some writers, dialogue is a major pain in the . . . nether regions of the backside.

So, sometimes before the crack of dawn this morning, after I fed and let the boyz out (at 3:30 AM in case anybody cares), I could not fall swiftly back to sleep. Okay, part of the problem was that my cat Squeaky decide to park herself on top of me and gnaw on my ears, neck, and chin, no matter how many times I told her no dumpling, daddy's tired. Okay, I didn't say it that nicely, but the thought was there. It was almost 4 AM people, give me a break. Still, not able to fall back to sleep my mind began to wander and I, for whatever reason, began to think about dialogue. Well, the floodgates opened. I jotted down notes in line at Starbucks, at every red light I thankfully (yes, there are times I'm thankful for a red light) came to, and even while driving down the road (yes, I did, sorry, I was inspired).

Now that I've finished my Sophia Petrillo digression . . .

For me, dialogue needs to flow naturally. I don't like it when dialogue seems forced or stilted.

So, how do you achieve natural dialogue when dialogue is the bane of your existence and you'd rather go to the dentist and have him drill away at every single tooth instead of writing the necessary dialogue? I have no clue. All I can do is write about what works for me, and hope that you can glean some small bit of knowledge from that information.

First - the dialogue needs to flow naturally. I achieve this by paying attention to my friends, co-workers, people in restaurants, bars, movie theaters, or wherever. I'm a people watcher. I study their habits as they talk. I listen (okay, I eavesdrop in hopes of picking up some juicy tidbit of information I can use in my next novel) to their conversations. I pay attention to how they speak, what they say, and any little conversational quirks. I apply everything I see/hear to the characters and their conversations.

Now, all of this doesn't really help, does it? I mean, writing dialogue is difficult for some people. True, but if you can write brilliant prose, descriptive passages, delve into the emotions of your characters, then you can write dialogue as well. You (Major Generalization) have conversations everyday with your family, friends, coworkers, store clerks, bank tellers, and whoever. You don't stumble and fall flat on your face in those conversations, do you? You have arguments with people you love, right? You get your point across? Okay, then the basis for dialogue is right there! Have you ever had a conversation in your mind with somebody? For example, you're mad at a friend and plan to confront them, so you go over the conversation in your mind first? Well, next time you're doing that, write the conversation out. Go ahead, try! Trust me, you'll be surprised at the dialogue that unfolds before you.

Now, here are a few tidbits of information I pay attention to when writing dialogue.

Do your characters, when having a conversation, . . . talk with their hands, bit their lower lip, quirk an eyebrow, drum their fingers on the table, furrow their brow, get a red spot just above the bridge of their nose (this happens to a friend of mine when she gets overly excited during a conversation), cross their arms over their chest, tap their foot, rub their fingers together, spit just a little bit, tug at their ear, twirl a strand of hair around their finger?????

WTH does any of that have to do with dialogue? Well, it has everything to do with dialogue because people do not just stand frozen in place when they have a conversation. The actions of your characters during the dialogue moments are, sometimes, just as important as the dialogue.

When your characters are having conversations do they . . . lose their train of thought, misspeak a word (Walmarts instead of Walmart, for example), curse, stutter, stumble, go uh, uh, um, yeah, like, well, uh, maybe . . . or any other thing.

The above aspects are important as well, at least to me.

Another important, again, at least for me, aspect of dialogue is the words the characters use. I know there have been a few posts about using curse words. I use them - sparingly - in my dialogue. Why? Because some of my friends use the F word, and some of them don't; therefore, some of my characters use the F word, and some don't. Again, this all comes down to the dialogue flowing naturally. You can write a book without a single curse word. It's possible, it's feasible, but, if your story takes place today (here, now, 2009) is it really likely that not one character in your novel uses the F word? Is the dialogue truly real if there isn't one F word in the book? I'll leave that up to the individual writers out there.

Another aspect of dialogue, again for me, is to stay true to the characters I'm writing about. One of my favorite English teachers did an in-depth lecture about the connotations of words and the empowerment of words. Her examples: Bitch, Faggot, Fairy, and the N Word (sorry, don't like the word and I'm not going to even type it out). Basically, she said that women often take the word Bitch and make it a power word, thus lessening the derogatory impact of the word. Her example: Yeah, I'm a bitch. Okay, so she thinks she's a bitch, which makes the word less derogatory when someone else throws the word at her. The same goes for faggot and fairy when used by gay men. Yes, gay men throw those terms around each other all the time. Why? Again, by throwing those words around, adding a different connotation to the words, the derogatory nature of the words are lessened. Therefore, if I'm writing (which I do) about gay men, I'm going to toss around those words in the conversations my characters have. Why? Because it's real life, people, and that's what needs to show up in your dialogue. There needs to be a realness to the situation.

Okay, I've gone on a very lengthy diatribe this morning and better stop while I'm ahead. My questions, since there must be questions, are . . . What works for you when writing dialogue? What doesn't work for you? Why doesn't it work? What are the problems you're having with dialogue?

p.s. blogger is doing some lovely format things with this post, and I don't have the time to figure out how to correct them, so . . . my apologies. : )


Tess said...

Really good thoughts here. I tend to like and use character tells (twirling hair, certain phrases, etc). Sometimes my dialogue works and other times it's stilted but a little bit of distance and reworking will bring it around. It's certainly something I'm still crafting.

Lady Glamis said...

Great post! How did I spur this on???? Just curious. :)

My main problem with dialogue is the characters talking in circles. It's quite annoying, but pretty easy to fix. Thanks for some awesome thoughts!!!

Scott said...

Lady Glamis - your statement about your characters talking in circles. You left that comment on a blog yesterday, or possibly the day before, and I think you've also made other comments about dialogue difficulty. For whatever reason, when I read your comment I began to think about doing a post about dialogue. So, your comment was the catalyst for the post.

I think one of the greatest things about following the blogs is that we bloggers have a symbiotic relationship with each other, i.e., we feed (in a good way) off of each other. Yeah, perhaps that's not the best analogy. Still,I take inspiration where I can get it, and you provided it this time.