♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
What part of writing are you best at?
Not compared to everyone else, but compared to you?
Welcome back to another Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. Even more so, we appreciate that you share our writings with friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
Very early on in my writing journey, the reviews that I did receive of my work all highlighted how well I wrote the dialogue. This was something I was thoroughly excited to have a skill for, considering I wanted to write screenplays as well. Dialogue is central to any great film. Actually, it’s pretty central to any story.
When dialogue isn’t written well the reader knows it and it can get them to put your book down. When the conversations are compelling and written well, it can keep the audiences attention, even when there are other problems in the writing. To be honest, those other issues are far easier to fix than dialogue.
What tips can I give a writer about dialogue? Study conversations in everyday life. Stop trying to write profoundly from the mouths of your characters, as if they’re all monks dropping some epic advice to your would be Jesus. That’s going to feel put on in ways that really put off readers. Just let them speak naturally in a way that fits the setting and genre.
Knowing your genre is imperative to knowing how your characters will speak. Knowing the setting, the period, and the personality of each person is also key. If you can’t see them fully in your mind, then you can’t tell us what they’d say. It’s like how scenarios in real life run in your head. You just know what your cousin is going to say after that family reunion. Maybe it’s what your supervisor is going to say if you show up late from lunch without having let them know you may be back late. Knowing them well helps you make those implications and unsaid things stronger and more, dare I say, organic.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll always get it right on the first try. Rewriting helps you hone the dialogue, not just the prose. Sometimes, you say too much (exposition is murder). Sometimes, you’ve said too little. I’d rather say too little, though!
Another bit of advice: watch a lot of movies and plays. You’ll learn quickly! You can also build up that experience by seeking YouTube videos on the art of dialogue. Although these might be geared toward script/play writing, they do have a benefit for those who write prose and poetry.
Have you thought about how poetry can help you write better dialogue? It actually can. Poetry teaches us how to be precise and concise and make the most of the words we chose to express meaning. It teaches us the magic of metaphor and allusion. That said, be mindful of dropping into your dialogue some of those big words that poetry can tend to tap. If your character isn’t a thesaurus, it can be weird and out of place. For instance, the other day a colleague used the word deleterious in their email to hide their overt inference that things were toxic. It doesn’t really hide anything, but it does come of pretentious and leaves a worse taste in the mouths of the readers than being direct.
Remember back when your grammar school teacher repeated so often that you must consider your audience. In every piece of writing, the audience is paramount. Dialogue that works understands the character speaking as well as the audience receiving. The way that words are spoken are another level of meaning. In script writing we call those parentheticals, and they’re to be used sparingly, in respect of the actor and director who will know how to bring the character to life. In prose, there is no actor or director apart from the reader. So we end dialogue with she/he/they said.
I personally found it annoying that editors would erase my dialogue directives in prose and replace them with flat saids. In many cases, that is fine, but you can’t always just say said. There’s a specific way the dialogue is to be spoken by the character that cannot be implied by the words used alone. For instance, when they’re lying or hiding something, they’re not going to speak with a true emotion. To express emotion, punctuation can often work, but an exclamation point, question mark, comma, period, ellipsis and the rest do not show gritted teeth and disgust at an inference or insult.
Essentially, I write what I see in my head, as the work plays out like a movie on my mind screen. My background in film and screenwriting is a huge help. I can’t recommend a little study in this direction enough to make that dialogue pop. That said, if you watch enough high rated television and film in your genre, you’ll get it (it’s still study, whether you see it that way or not).
Let’s hop through the links to the other author answers below to find out more tips and tricks around what they do best in their writing…