At the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference this weekend, I took a series of phenomenal classes from writing teacher and psychologist Margie Lawson. I thought I was a fairly decent writer—I have a few awards to prove it—but what I learned this weekend after taking Lawson’s classes is that “I don’t know nothing yet.”
Let’s just say that by the end of the day I literally had one brain cell left.
One of my favorite classes was on dialogue cues. For the most part, I’ve already learned to keep my dialogue tags short. He said. She said. And to avoid attributions like the following:
- “I don’t like you,” he said, disdainfully
- “I hate you,” she said, angrily
- “Don’t move,” he growled
- “Get away from me,” she hissed Read more
One of the most important things we must not do to readers is bore them or stop the flow of the story. In my recent post, How not to write a story, I shared agent Margaret Bail’s tips and writing don’ts.
Here are several other points she and other agents, editors, and workshop presenters made during a panel discussion at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference.
Character description. A common but ineffective way to describe your character is by having her look in a mirror or other reflective surface and describe what she sees.
I’ve heard people who teach writing give advice that if you want to write good dialogue to eavesdrop on people’s conversations in coffee shops, train stations, and other public places.
Personally, I think writing mentor Robert McKee’s advice is more accurate: only eavesdrop on people’s conversations if you want to learn how NOT to write good dialogue. Read more
Have you ever written a passage of dialogue between two characters who sounded just alike? I have. After awhile, I couldn’t tell which character was speaking. With a novel full of characters, it can be difficult to make each and every one stand out with a distinctive voice.
One way to find a character’s distinctive voice is keep a Voice Journal. Author James Scott Bell says he’ll do this if he finds one of his characters is starting to sound too dull or pedestrian. Read more
Since the day we are born, we’re taught to be polite. Civilization depends on politeness. As writers, this can be a handicap. We strive for drama and conflict in our stories. Everyday, we strive to overcome our conditioning.
Reading over a chapter of my novel this morning, I realized the characters in one scene are far too polite. It’s not a scene that requires them to be rude or in conflict with one another but my dialogue could be shorter, punchier, and more direct.
The remedy is easy. Among the plethora of advice I picked up this weekend at the StoryMasters conference was a tip from author and writing mentor James Scott Bell. Sometimes, he says, he’ll just write dialogue down the page–a back and forth between the characters with no tags, actions or anything else. This can help us get in the flow of the exchange. Later, we can go back and add the other stuff in. Read more
As writers, we’re extremely lucky to be able to engage in behaviors others might find a bit abnormal.
We get to listen to the “voices” in our heads, and we get to make imaginary people talk to other imaginary people. All of this in the pursuit of our “craft.”
I was thinking about this recently while considering what makes good dialogue. Here are a few tips that might help you as you write your own dialogue.
- Build your knowledge of your characters. Just as you invent your characters, you must create their conversations and interactions. The more you understand your characters, the easier it will be to invent their dialogue. Read more