What Did She Say??

Now that I have your attention, let us discuss the dreaded ‘D’ word…

DIALOGUE: noun - A conversation or other form of discourse. In a dramatic or literary presentation, the verbal parts of the script or text; the verbalizations of the actors or characters.

Dialogue can bring out the best in your character, or it can fall flat and make your story sound stilted, lackluster and unbelievable.

So, how does an author write good dialogue between her characters?

I’ve heard pearls of wisdom such as ‘write like you speak’ or ‘don’t write dialect’ or ‘read all dialogue out loud’ to hear if it sounds natural to the ear. All good advice. Sometimes, they even work.

However, one thing you might consider is your hero/heroine’s frame of mind at the time they speak. Many times, when you are writing sentence tags and action, an emotive clue is given that shows what the character is feeling. That clue and that feeling can help construct a better spoken sentence if you pay attention. An example:

George shielded his eyes and searched the skies.

“Do you see the plane?” Melinda asked.

It only makes sense that if someone is looking up, another person will ask whether they can see something. The action, and then the implied emotion is making the speech sound natural.

Melinda clutched her throat, worrying her necklace with agitated fingers.

“Don’t worry, he’s only a few minutes late.” George said, his tone neutral.

Now, George is picking up Melinda’s non-verbal action and is speaking out loud, not only to point something out, but to reassure. Action and external emotions are dictating what is being said.

Another issue with stilted dialogue is repetative or banal speech that does nothing to move the story or the relationship forward. Rather than having characters say things like “Did too! Did not!” skip that portion of the dialogue and move to action and emotion, then speech.

There is no need to have the hero/heroine have a conversation, and then in the next chapter have one of them repeat the entire conversation to another person. A simple sentence, such as:

Melinda explained her concern over John’s plane landing so late.

“Shoot, that’d scare me, too, especially with that snowstorm coming from the north!” JoAnn exclaimed, hand clutching her collar.

No repeating of the conversation, plus the reader has learned something new – a storm was coming. Storms, as all readers know, can seriously mess with characters, causing all kinds of havoc in their lives.

Each action, each emotion, and each spoken word should give the reader a clue about how the story will be resolved.

If your characters speak well, your dialogue will sparkle.