Friday, September 17, 2010

Writing Dialogue

by Margaret West

If I could write a book on the amount of questions that I’ve been asked with regards to dialogue, it would be an epic! Realistic dialogue doesn’t always come easily to everyone. But I can’t tell you how important it is. Dialogue advances a story and fleshes out the characters while providing a break from straight exposition. But, nothing pulls the reader out of a story faster than bad dialogue. It takes time to develop a good technique, but here’s a few guidelines that I use which might help.

Listen to how people talk. Don’t become a stalker or anything! Just eavesdrop and scribble down phrases you like. The right words can bring a character to life. Likewise, the wrong word/phrase can destroy the reader’s belief in the character. For instance, it’s unlikely that a builder would say “goodness me” or a solicitor would say “blimey. Dialogue should read like real speech. But, in saying that, real speech has words and sounds that would be distracting if included on a page. Words like “uh” and “oh” does not make dialogue sound more realistic. These kind of extraneous words look unprofessional.

Now comes the tricky part. Cut words and phrases out that don’t serve the conversation’s purpose. What I mean by that is, any dialogue should move the story forward while bringing your characters to life. If it doesn’t, cut it out altogether. Writers sometimes provide too much information at once through dialogue. It should never be obvious that you’re communicating information; otherwise you run the risk of info dumping. Give no character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once. You can trust the reader to remember details from earlier in the story. Make sure you break up dialogue with action, because physical details help to break up the words on the page.

Tag lines can be the bane of writer’s lives to write and read. Don’t try too hard to vary them. Veering too much beyond “he said/she said” draws attention to the tags. Readers tend to skim over them anyway. If you write “interjected,” or “ he sighed,” you’ve now drawn the reader out of the action you’re trying to create. If your dialogue is working, you won’t have to say any of these words in the tag line. Most of all, punctuate dialogue correctly. Nothing is more distracting to a publisher than a writer who doesn’t know how to use punctuation. A polished MS is no good if it’s covered in punctuation errors.

Born in England, Margaret West moved to the Kent countryside five years ago to get away from the busy life in London. She is married with two grown up children and has worked in various fields of work. She has been writing over 20 years in various fields: academic modules, novels, short stories, magazine columns and Blue Mountain Sympathy card range. Her main love is writing Romance and Paranormals novels.
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