What Are You doing with your Dialogue?

Recently I heard an author read several pages of her book that was nothing but dialogue.

For me, it was a bit off-putting. I had trouble following because though there were dialogue tags there was no action whatsoever. I had no idea where the conversation was taking place, so in essence, the people speaking were "talking heads."

For dialogue to be successful there must be a reason for what the characters are saying. The dialogue must reveal character and/or move the plot along.

People do not speak in space--when they are talking they have to be somewhere, this means characters in books as well.

When you are having a conversation, watch the other folks. Even if they are sitting down, what are they doing? Facial expressions? Smiling, blinking, laughing, frowning.
Do they touch their faces, wiggle their noses, blow their nose, fiddle with their hair or an uncomfortable piece of clothing? These kinds of things can serve as a dialogue tag when your character speaks instead of the usual, he or she said.

Often people get up and walk around while talking, where are the going? What do they touch or stare at along the way. What happens to interrupt the conversation? What action or event is going to take your characters off somewhere else?

Could a reader tell who was speaking without any dialogue tag at all?

Never have one speaker convey to another something that person would already know just to get a piece of information across to the reader. Dialogue should sound realistic, though you should leave out all the boring things we say to one another.

If I were to read a piece from my book, something I don't often do, it would be the first few pages of An Axe to Grind which describes the discovery of a decapitated corpse.

What I used to tell my Writer's Digest School students was, "Good writing is like weaving. You need equal parts of action, dialogue and narration--never a big lump of one thing for pages and pages."

Just a few tips from an old writing teacher and a writer who tries to follow her own advice.



Anonymous said…
Excellent advice. I've been worrying about that as I write Disposable Lives. I will tuck this one away.
Anonymous said…
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Cheryl said…
Nice article, and so true. Devon Ellington gives an excellent workshop on dialogue at the Muse Online Writers Conference that I've taken two years in a row. It definitely makes a difference.


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