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Posts tagged ‘dialogue’

Build characters and advance your plot with these dialogue best practices

Dialogue is a powerful way to reveal your characters and move your story forward. In The Craft of Character online class through, authors Amy Bloom and Brando Skyhorse discuss the role of dialogue in character development.

The class is part of Wesleyan College’s Craft Your Story Like the Great Writers specialization that takes students through plot, character development, setting and description, and style. The creative writing specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. The classes start at $79 each, but you can access videos and certain assignments free of charge.

In a video interview, Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, and Bloom discussed the role of dialogue. Great dialogue should:

Reveal your characters. One of the ways readers get to know characters is from what they say as well as what they do, and more specifically, what they do to one another, Skyhorse said.  Dialogue should deepen the reader’s understanding of character or advance the plot. Read more

Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.

Deep editing: Make each word count

In July, I took Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class, an intensive three and a half day workshop on deep editing. My brain is still teeming with all the tips we learned to turn our manuscripts into bestsellers.

One day, as we reviewed one of my first-draft chapters in my current project, we came across a short paragraph about a character’s driving skills.

In the scene, my character is driving along a dark, windy road in the mountains at night when he comes across my protagonist walking along the side of the road after she’d just seen her maybe-boyfriend sucking face with another woman. (Every time I hear the words “sucking face,” I think of the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” where I first heard the term. The power of fresh writing!)

Anyway, the driver of the car offers my protagonist a ride home (she knows him—he’s the new man in town). She learns more about him and why he’s in town. He ends up giving her relationship advice and flirting heavily with her.

Here’s the paragraph in question:

“Hmmm,” he said, tapping his brakes before the next curve, then laying off them during the turn. He handled the vehicle as if he’d had years of experience coaxing the two-ton beast into compliance. “Any news on your grandfather?”

Questions that came up in class: Read more

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.



How to reveal character personality through speech

Your characters’ speech reveals volumes about their education, personality, and where they grew up. A character who was reared in the deep South will speak with a different accent and use different slang than one who grew up in the Midwest. When it comes to creating distinct characters in the readers’ minds, using slang — without overdoing it — can help form a character’s personality.

My friends and family have lived in a variety of places, so I’ve picked up on slang from the West and southern United States, as well as British slang from my friends who hail from the United Kingdom. My Midwestern friends say hot dish while my family in the Western U.S. call it casserole. Depending on where you’re from, you might say “pop” where others say, “soda” or “soda pop.” Some of my friends say sofa and others couch.

Here are several examples. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that slang can migrate as people move from one part of the country to another.

Here’s what my southern friends say:

Fit to be tied — frustrated, angry, agitated

Fixin’ – about or getting ready. “I’m fixin’ to go to school.”

Hunkey Dorey — everything is fine.

Hankerin’ for – a desire/craving for where my British friends might say they “fancied” something.

My British friends have been known to use these expressions: Read more

Dialogue tips I learned from reading Elmore Leonard

My favorite books are fantasy, paranormal, some horror, and stories about anything strange or extraordinary. But I’ve also read many classics, crime stories, and mysteries. When another writer told me a few years ago that I should study Elmore Leonard’s novels to see how he writes dialogue, it took me awhile to pick up one of his books, but when I finally did, I was blown away.

My first foray into Leonard territory was the novel Road Dogs about bank robber Jack Foley and street-wise Cundo Rey who meet in prison and quickly become friends, referring to themselves as Road Dogs. Foley is released two weeks before Rey who insists that Foley stay at his home—but warning him not to mess with his girlfriend Dawn (who really just wants to milk Rey out of his money). Below is an excerpt early on in the book, before either man is released from prison. Read more

How to create your own “dialogue cue” practice

In an earlier post, I wrote about some of the great tips I learned from writing guru Margie Lawson at the recent Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference.

Lawson coined the term “dialogue cues” to describe the psychological/emotional subtext around dialogue. (For a great discussion of subtext with examples, read The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter).

I’ve been experimenting with creating dialogue cues since Lawson’s class and made up my own “dialogue cue” practice as I did with metaphor practice.  Here’s what I do:

1.  Using one word or a short phrase make a list of attributes of your character—try using what Lawson calls “power words,” words that have an emotional or psychological impact on your reader.

The list for the antagonist in my current work might look like this: Sexy, Sensual, Ancient, Devious, Infectious, Hypnotic, Charming. Read more