In following with a pattern of sorts, I feel like one of my writing strengths is dialogue. So this time I decided to send the ego out for a break and find out if there was more I could learn. It’s good to strengthen your weaknesses, but even better to build up your strengths, right?
This was presented by Mette Ivie Harrison who spelled dialogue as dialog, which apparently is technically correct, but it bothered me the whole time! People, it’s D-I-A-L-O-G-U-E. Okay, enough of that. Onto the notes.
#1 DIALOGUE IS GREAT FOR GETTING TO KNOW CHARACTERS
Characters can talk about themselves to other characters. People naturally reveal themselves to others in conversation, but it must be comfortable. Avoid ‘uh’ ‘um’ etc.
Examples used: Code Name Verocity, Life As We Knew It
#2 DIALOGUE IS GREAT AT REVEALING CONFLICT
Each character wants something different. Each character should have a different verbal style to get this. One could be passive, the other aggressive. Shouting is not the only way to show conflict in dialogue. Whispering, twisting words, sarcasm—all work as well.
Example used: An Ideal Boyfriend
#3 DIALOGUE IS EXCELLENT FOR MOVING THE PLOT FORWARD
It can reveal information that is necessary for the resolution of plot, but be careful how you approach it. And it can resolve problems and conflicts.
Example used: The False Prince
#4 YOU CAN USE DIALOGUE TO CONVEY INFORMATION TO THE READER
But be careful of maid/butler dialogue. Those scenes where almost completely unimportant characters reveal the one piece of vital information that moves the plot forward. They can even be semi-important characters, but whose only purpose is to convey that information before disappearing completely or being killed. Point being, if they already know it they won’t talk about it. (This is something I didn’t like about Dr. Whatshisface in Pontypool.)
If you use this method, have a character who is ignorant be involved in the conversation. Or have the conversation be between two people who debate the info given. Take Harry Potter, for example. (KATE!) Because he doesn’t know the world, then he can explain it to the readers naturally.
JAE NOTE: At this point she generally quit selecting samples from other works and stuck to the ones she knows: her own. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to do a bit of shameless promotion of your own stuff. I don’t know that I’d feel comfortable even doing the one example. But anyway, it caused me to wonder if she doesn’t take as much time to read other things? I mean, go to Harry Potter if you need examples for crying out loud! 😉 Does anyone else feel like this was a bit self-serving? Anyway, for the rest of these, just go find one of Mette’s books, according to her.
#5 USE DIALOGUE TO MAKE THE READER FEEL EMOTION
Make the reader feel something is not the same as the characters feeling it. The characters may not react to pain, but the reader will. Characters may also not be able to cheer for a final kiss, but readers will.
#6 WHAT IS NOT SAID IS AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT IS SAID
Silence can be as potent a response as any paragraph of words. There is more than one way to convey silence. You can use misdirection figuratively and say everything but what will gradually become clear to the reader is truth (for that story. Also, I didn’t quite get what she meant. I think lead your readers down a wrong path, all the while laying the groundwork that shows them the truth they arrive at in the end was there all along).
Anyway, one of my favorite dialogue scenes is between Han and Leia. Because they knew Han’s character well enough, they knew this scene should play out exactly like this:
We were running out of time, so 7-9 she did rather fast. I couldn’t make many notes before she read more samples from her books.
#7 Use a twist to make your dialogue pop.
#8 Witty banter is an old classic of great dialogue.
#9 Zingers make great dialogue.
#10 DIALOGUE TAGS ARE IMPORTANT
But don’t overuse them. If it’s clear which character is speaking, you don’t need a tag. Don’t tell us the emotion conveyed if it’s already obvious.
Example used: The Queen of Attolia
JAE NOTE: She wanted to put in desperately for one of her samples, but I think you should write it so we can conclude that it is desperate. It’s harder, but your readers will appreciate it more.
Despite a few bothers, I still enjoyed attending this forum. All of these points served as good reminders. I intend to take all the points and see if they help me find areas where my novel’s dialogue could be improved.
Did you learn anything new? What are your writing strengths? Is dialogue one of them? Do you agree with her advice? Disagree?