Wednesday, June 15, 2016

4 keys to Great Dialogue

Obviously, I cannot teach people to write great dialogue in a single plot, but, like my other posts, can give you a few things to think about as you write your latest scene today.

Many authors love writing dialogue. In fact, I am betting this is one of the biggest reasons that so many authors love writing in first person. Essentially this is straight-up dialogue with your main character talking to the reader. However, although many love writing dialogue, there are far too many stories where I see the dialogue adding absolutely nothing to the story. What authors have to remember is that dialogue is not simply characters talking. It is an integral part of the entire story.

When it comes to dialogue, we have to remember 5 basic facts:
  1. What we hear has to be believable
  2. The dialogue needs to add to character development
  3. It should advance the plot
  4. It should add a layer of backstory and depth
  5. It should assist with heightening the conflict and tension
Let's look at each.

BELIEVABLITY - This is a big one with me, as many of you should already know. The words we hear from the characters have to not only be authentic, but also fit with who the character really is. To accomplish this, an author really has to take the time to know who the character is as a person. We are talking a full understanding of their goals, motivations and conflicts. The authenticity comes from really writing about characters you understand.

I will say, this is one of the reasons why I have passed on so many YA and New Adult projects. Unless you are someone who is of that age, or someone who works and lives with someone who is that age, you simply don't get it. The jargon, word choice, and phrasing is something you simply cannot make up.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT - What the characters say (or don't say and only reveal in their introspection) should tell us a lot about the characters. This cannot simply be reserved for narration or dialogue tags, and certainly, adjectives and adverbs will not fix the problem. What do the characters say when they are in stressed situations? How do they react when they are happy? In simple terms, when the characters talk, we should learn something about them each and every time. They should not just be asking for a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks.

PLOT ADVANCEMENT - This is really a wasted area for so many authors. They tend to reserve the plot advancement to only the narration. Instead, let the dialogue of the characters advance the story. Move us toward a goal. Keep the story moving. When they say something, it should be setting up the next scene or an impending conflict that they don't see yet. Again, don't move the story along only with the narration, and then, when you get to the scene you want, have everything come to a screeching halt so your characters can sit around and talk.

DEPTH - This is connected in many ways with the character development and the plot advancement. When we start to see characters saying one thing publicly, and then turning around and saying something different in their introspection, we can see some depth of development. When the characters are given a chance to talk for more than a single sentence, we learn a lot more about their surroundings and their world. We just have to give them a chance to talk.

CONFLICT - Again, don't rely on the narration here. If you really want to build the conflict between two characters, put them in a room together and let them start talking to each other. I promise, you will get the fireworks you were looking for. Too often, I see authors only build the conflict when the characters are away from each other. This is such a shame because that tension could have been so much stronger if we heard how they really felt about each other.

The point of all of this is pretty basic. Make the dialogue work for you in the story. This is not, as I pointed out in the beginning, just the time when the characters talk.

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