Haayyyloooooo futures followers and present followers! How’s it going? Are you well? Getting over those nasty winter colds? I sure hope so. I have an annoying residual cough that deprives me of any dairy based foods or liquids. One TINY bite or sip and I’m hacking for the whole day. Yeahhh it’s kinda gross. But don’t worry! I’m not contagious! I did cry watching that movie “La La Land” though and got soooo plugged up… What?! You haven’t heard about it! Oh my GAWD go see it!… Go NOW!… YESSS go NOW you need to watch it! (Seriously. It really is worth watching at least once…)
…Do you have any hints yet about what this blog will be about yet? Well, let me tell you right now that it’s not about me having a cold xD Or going to watch an awesome movie. Today I want to talk about how writers are a little bit schizophrenic.
No, really. Schizo-esque!
Okay, not CLINICALLY. I’m not being medically correct and I absolutely mean no disrespect. (I’m just not sure what else to call it.) But writers DO have voices in their heads and sleepless nights often enough. Plus, if you’re any writer worth your salt, you often speak aloud to your characters and write down their responses (or vice versa).
Ah-ha! Now you get it don’t you? Today I’m talking about conversations. DIALOGUE.
Every critic and writer will have their own opinions about what drives a story. Some will say plot. Others say it’s characters. Let me ask you something. When you turn the page of a fiction novel and you see a whole page of nothing but blocky descriptive paragraphs, do your eyes not move automatically to those quotation marks and steal a peek at what’s to be said? You DO! ADMIT IT! Because your eyes yearn for action, something your brain can “hear”. Conversation moves the story forward as much or more than plot or characters in my opinion.
Rebel, rebel. Heh.
Phase One of Schizo- esque writer brain: Dialogue says so much in a story. Pun intended. When the character speaks you can determine whether the person speaking is a man, a woman, a boy, or a girl. You can tell perhaps that they have an accent. (An excellent example of this is in a book by Sir Terry Pratchett called “The Wee Free Men”, my current reading project). You can tell what kind of upbringing they’ve had by the words or slang they use, if they cuss a lot, or if they use words you have to look up in the dictionary. You can tell the mood of a character with their choice of verbs or punctuation. All these things can be determined in one line of words in between a set of quotation marks. IF the writer isn’t rubbish at dialogue.
Well, all writers are rubbish at dialogue at first. We’re pretty bad at just about everything when it comes to writing novels. But it can all be remedied with practice! (And a helluva good editor).
How do you practice dialogue Jess?
Come now! Can you think of no ways? Do you talk on the phone? Do you type text messages? Do you have conversations with strangers on the bus? Do you talk to your boss every week? Do you sit in a coffee shop and listen to the droning conversations around you while waiting for your caramel frapp with whip? Yes to all. Except maybe the last one. Am I the only one that does that? Eh. whatever. If you don’t do it you SHOULD. Your characters are no different from those people sitting at the coffee shop. They are, essentially, real people. They are in your head and you’re writing their stories down on paper. You want them to sound real and you want the readers to believe they’re real. You do that by injecting them with realism.
Phase two schizo-esque writer brain: Dialogue should be the easiest thing in the WORLD for writers to write because we use it every day in our own lives! We just have to learn to be quiet and listen. Really. When you’re a writer, eavesdropping is absolutely okay (as long as no one catches you at it!) It’s the only way you’ll be able to develop a rich repertoire of voices and accents and words. So you’ve got a character that is business savvy and shrewd but you yourself, are not. What do you do? Find out where the business-y types eat lunch and go order a salad. Bring a pad of paper and a pen. Listen and write.
Got a character who is foreign, fresh off the boat and scared out of their minds to be in America? Where would they go to be comfortable? Be a detective! China town, Korea town, Little Mexico, British Tea shop, Bob’s Famous BBQ…bring your pen and paper. (Eat some Kimchi while you’re at it. It’s… an experience.) Or, better yet, HAVE AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION WITH THESE PEOPLE.
GASP! Noooo Jess! Writer and Hermit are synonymous terms!
Yes. Yes I know. Be brave. You need this to succeed. (Besides, you never know who you might bump into. Could be an awesome literary agent or a famous author in disguise, an A-lister of the writing world!)
Here’s a piece of advice for you hermits: I don’t really recommend watching movies as a reliable source for dialogue (with a few exceptions). A lot of it is cliché and you, as a new budding writer, want to have a fresh and believable spin for your characters. Break the meta! I mean, you CAN I guess. But if I hear even ONE “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” in your writing, I’ll give you twenty lashes with a wet noodle. Vingt coup avec la nouille mouille! Unless it’s relevant and makes sense to the story.
Okay, so you’ve done some research for your character. You have a description, a background, a personality and now they have a voice. Good job! I’ll even forgive you for ignoring my advice and watching everything Hulu had in their movie section relevant to your novel. Now it’s time to put it together and put it on paper. Obviously you need to ignore the first draft. Just pound it out and get to the editing phase. The best way for you to edit dialogue is to read it.
Well duh! Of COURSE read it.
Read it OUT LOUD I mean. This is phase three of the Schizo- esque writer brain that is essential to our success.
Often times your brain will catch mistakes when spoken out loud than by simply reading the words. It’s why English teachers stress reading out-loud to be a better reader. Your ears can tell when something sounds off because they’re so used to hearing normal conversation every day. Pretty darn cool. Hooray for brains!
The BEST way to determine if your dialogue is genuine however, is to conscript a brave soul to have a read through the pages with you. Yes, I know. You’re cringing. So I am. But I promise it’s the best way. You WANT to do this! You want to be a good writer! If you read aloud with someone, you’ll be able to tell what’s wrong or right about the sentence and make adjustments as needed. You will hear if the dialogue sounds smooth and whether the transitions between characters speaking sound natural. You can also get rid of dead filler and excessive adverbs. We don’t want to turn this into an episode of the Waltons going to bed, right?
“Good night Jim Bob!” shouted Elizabeth.
“Good night Mary Ann!” said Billy excitedly, wanting to join in the fun.
“Good night Elizabeth,” Pa mumble, half-asleep.
“Good night ma,” Mary Ann said shyly, hesitant as always to join in.
“Good night Pa,” Jim Bob called with his deep voice.
So there you have it! My summary for successful dialogue in your stories. Kind of. Carry on my wayward readers! And don’t forget to tell Mabel what you said! 😉 With minimal adverbs and proper syntax.