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Dialogue tips: listening from the inside out

In the short video below, “Telling the Story: Making Your Characters Talk—Writing Great Dialogue,” Irish authors Carlo Gébler, Sinead Moriarty and Declan Hughes, share tips for creating great dialogue.

They suggest to try “putting on your character’s clothes” and really feeling what they feel inside. From that inside-out perspective, pay attention to how they speak. What are their rhythms or accents? And, think snappy dialogue. People don’t usually talk in long monologues or “info dump” blocks.

Before writing your character’s dialogue, you have to hear their voice in your head. And, most importantly, listen to people around you. Listen for the nuances in their speech.

The other night at dinner, we were seated next to a 60ish couple. During the 15-minutes before they paid and left, I listened to the man berate and belittle his date (it was obvious from their conversation that they weren’t married or lived together).

“Look at me, when I speak to you,” he said, his voice hard as the wooden chair supporting his lean, compact frame. “I don’t think you’re really listening to me. How could you be?” He wiped his puckered trout mouth with a napkin, as if the words sent in her direction left a putrid taste on his tongue. “Every time, I know what to expect. Every time. Three hours at your house. I know it’s a minimum of three hours. You’re so predictable. How can you be so predictable?”

I don’t remember the rest of his rant because at some point it was just too painful to listen to. She didn’t speak a single word, not even when they got up to leave, as if she knew any words would only feed his condemnation.

Can I imagine one of my characters speaking this way? Absolutely. I can even see amping it up a bit, making it larger than life. That’s the trick to good dialogue, too—making it sound like real dialogue but without the boring parts.

To watch more “Telling the Story” videos click on the above video’s sidebar.



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