All-Things-ScribeSlice

Group: All Things ScribeSlice

"On writing dialogue," he said.

“About Writing Dialogue,” I replied.

I’ve been asked many times, “How in the world do you write dialogue? It’s like I’m listening to people talk when I read your dialogue!”

Well that is the answer. It is like listening to people talk when I write dialogue.

I just finished my fourth novel, “The Sign Killer” and in the end I have several paragraphs where one person is doing all of the talking. That dialogue is easy, there’s just one guy talking. When you have two people talking, it gets a little harder, but not much.


(Boogie shined his light around looking for a good tree for his climbing stand. He found a shag bark hickory about 15 inches in diameter with no limbs for 18 to 20 feet.
“I’ll be right here,” he told Bullfrog, snapping the bottom of his climbing stand around the tree.
“I’m going to be right straight through here another 100 yards or so,” Bullfrog said. “Neither of us will shoot anything between here and there. Got it?”
“I got it,” Boogie said, anxious for the hunt.)

Dialogue can be written like this:

“Why are you writing this?” he asked.
“Because I want to.”
“Is that a good reason?”
“Best reason I can think of,” I said.
“Well that may be a good reason to you, but I have to tell you, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
“It may not make sense to you,” I said. “Makes a whole lot of sense to me.”

In the above example, two people are talking. The passage is written in 1st person, which always makes it easier to write dialogue, because “I” am one of the two people speaking. I know what I would say, and I say it on paper. I can predict what the other party will say.


Don Yarber

18th December 2011


“What about tags?” you ask.

Tags are the “he said” and “she said” notations in dialogue. They will tell us who is doing the talking. Sometimes it is better to NOT use a tag when only two people are doing the talking. If you go back and read the 4th paragraph above that starts with “Why are you writing this?” he asked. You will note that I did not put a “tag” after “Because I want to.” A tag here is not needed. I did insert a tag after “Best reason I can think of,” because I felt the question and answer session between the two people may have gotten a little off track if I didn’t clarify who was doing the talking.

Note that it is sometimes best to break up dialogue with some interjected sentences. Example:

“What about the title?” he asked.
“What about it?” Joe replied. He looked at the manuscript again, flicked the thick stack of papers with a forefinger and pointed at the title.

In that second sentence, I have given some life to the scene by inserting a sentence describing what Joe did as he asked “What about it?” That makes the dialogue have more meaning and lends credence to the speaker.

Elmore Leonard seldom uses anything in his dialogue but “he said” or “she said.”
He doesn’t clarify, and he seldom uses descriptive phrases like “he said, smilingly” or “she asked, hesitatingly”

Leonard believes that the reader is smart enough to see what is transpiring between the two people who are talking without the use of descrptive phrases between, during or after dialogue.

When more than two people are doing the talking, dialogue gets a little tougher. You MUST keep the reader advised (within the dialogue) about who is saying what.

Example:

"Are you going to the movies?" Jane asked Kelly. She already knew that Molly was going.
"No," Kelly said. "Are you going, Molly?"
"Yes," Molly replied, "I asked my mom and she said it was OK."

If I tried to write this dialogue without clarification, the reader would not know who was doing the talking. If you write dialogue like you were listening to a conversation, except by telling the reader who is speaking, you can't go wrong.

A person who likes to talk to people is a good dialogue writer. A person who likes to LISTEN to people is a GREAT dialogue writer.


Don Yarber

18th December 2011


A very good explanation, Don. I think Elmore had the right idea, though I do enjoy the little tidbits added to enrich it all as well. It doesn't make the reader any less intelligent, it just makes things more interesting.


Summer Breeze

19th December 2011


"You think yourself smart? Ah?"
"Common on. Knock it off." She brushes him off.
"Look, you started it so finish it!"
"Like hell."
"Jesus. Whats wrong with you?" He leans closer. Glaring.
"Am in the middle of something right now, okay?" She rises to her feet her nose inches from his. "Do you mind returning to your tasks?"
For a moment they stare each other down. He turns around and storms away .
"Women. Women," he mutters under his breath.


Bill O. farmer

19th December 2011


Thank Mr.Don for your advice and suggestion.Ur point of view and the way you have written some dialogues look quite apt and logical and will certainly help me too..


Aleena Afzal

19th December 2011


@Jan: Thanks. I, too, think Elmore Leonard has the right idea. I love his books.
@Bill: Very good example of dialogue! Isn't this from your story?
@Aleena: You are welcome. If you need further help, we are all here to help you.


Don Yarber

20th December 2011


I am terrified of writing dialog, which is why I stay away from writing the stories in my head. Don I do look to you and some of the others for your suggestions and advice, I suppose I just need to do it, practice and try to be comfortable with it. I am much more the listener than a talker, so perhaps there is some good dialog lurking somewhere.


Warren Gates

20th December 2011


Dialogue should also move the story forward, as well as reveal the characters. Dailogue also prevents boredom. Take a look at writers who just narrate. (If you can make it past page 40 without falling into a coma, good on you!) James Clavell gives his characters speech patterns or even accents. He does this with ease in TaiPan, Whirlwind and Noble House. He makes us hate his characters or love them mainly by his dialogue. He hardly ever has to say "he said" or "she said". You know who's talking.


Marysue Shaw

20th December 2011


I am one who finds it hard to write dialogue. Guess it is from too much diary (journal) writing.


Davide Castel

21st December 2011


i tend to write exactly how i think, which scares a lot of people. hahaha!


Summer Breeze

21st December 2011


@Don, the dialogue above was the spur of a moment thing for this discussion and is not taken from any of my stories.

@Warren, since you are a listener, then dialogue should come to you naturally. With dialogue you can set the pace for a story, mood and tone. Imagine a love scene, what is going to be said under these circumstances is going to be completely different compared to when the said couple is having a yelling match.

You know Warren sometimes I wonder whether animated movies these days are still meant for kids. I can sit and watch a cartoon and just get mersmerized with the dialogue. I keep my ears open for the dialogue and try to find out what ticks in it.

@Lucy, practice, practice and more practice will get you there.

"So what happened?" Allen asks here elbows on her knees, palms cupped under her chin.
"The bastard slapped my arse!"
"In the park?" Allen straightens up.
"In the park. I whirled around and slapped the daylights out of him," Sue chuckles.
"Oh oh." Allen is wide eyed.
Sue laughs; "His friends cheered."
Allen starts to laugh too, "cheering you, him, or the slap?"
"Can't tell but the guy sure pissed me off."
"What woman wouldn't be." Allen shifts in her seat. "Tell me, how did he recieve it?"
"Right across the side of the face. Wham!" Sue swings at an imaginary man.
"His reaction?"
"Consternation."

@Warren and Lucy the above dialogue as you have seen is a clear narration of the events that happened in a park. Here are two ladies talking. Now, I could have told the whole thing in narrative prose and it would have been like;

Sue made her way across the park. The sun was tipping for the western skies blah...blah. As she passed a man, the man hit her bum with his palm indecently. Sue lost her cool turned around and whacked him across the face. The man stood there looking at her in total suprise, while his colleagues cheered blah blah.

At this point I must say, I have an alternative of introducing dialogue, catcalls at this point between Sue and the man and the catcalls of his colleagues. If I did, it makes the action more livelier.

Happy writing!


Bill O. farmer

21st December 2011


Bill...Great, for one who finds it easy. You are right, it needs lots of practice. One day perhaps, I'll do just that!. Happy Christmas everyone.....


Davide Castel

22nd December 2011


Good Morning, Bill, thank you for the encouraging words!! I am going to set aside time the next few days and practice writing a story with dialog.


Warren Gates

21st December 2011


@Warren Cool. Just relax and imagine two people having a chat about anything on this earth.
Let the first person say something, anything. Then make the other party say something in reply. Go back to the first person...

Now inbetween the dialogue, give the reader something of the environment and titbits of what normal people do. Pointing, yawn, scratching maybe reach out and pat the other's hand.
Yawns are infectious. So maybe one yawns first, then the second party follows suit, with a comment, about being hungry or tired.

There is something weird you can do, if you chat on line with a friend, after both of you have signed off, retrieve the conversation and read through it. You would be suprised at what came out of your mind in reply to the other person's replies to yours. Happy writing.


Bill O. farmer

22nd December 2011


@Warren: There's an exercise you can do that's similar to Bill's suggestion. Bring a notebook, a pen, and an extra pen with you. Go to a park, the bus, grocery store, or even an office lunchroom. You're a listener, right? Listen away. Pick two people first for this assignment. Jot their conversation, place those in quotation marks, and add he said, she said, old lady said, etc.

After you've filled a page, review it. Study peoples' manner of speech, how they answer (or not answer questions), how in/direct they were with their responses, etc. The more you do this exercise, the more you'll learn to recognize and write all the different ways people respond (humans are awesomely diverse).

When you feel comfortable enough, you can interject the dialogue with your targets' actions. A scratch of the nose, a giggle, a roll of the eye. You can even add a third or fourth person if you're up to it. After a while, your own characters will start talking in your head. By then, you'll be adept with what to do: just listen and write away.

There are, of course, differences in real-life dialogue and literary dialogue as well as a few other stuff. Don't worry about those for now. Just do the exercise as described above. Let me know how it turns out.

P.S. Sorry if I sound bossy or psychologist-y. I'm in need of a vacation. :P


Daniel Sintos

25th December 2011


What a great idea, Daniel. I will try it at Starbucks, the customers there are hilarious to watch and listen to. :D


Summer Breeze

25th December 2011


When I write dialogue in my writing I just picture my scene like I am watching it myself... as if it is not me writing it but rather just 'documenting' what the 'characters' of the scene are saying... i just always zone out and I find that helps- rather than trying to 'have conversations with yourself.'

a lot of good books are ruined by poor dialogue... as if you can tell the author is just forcing it out... :) Thank you Don and others for explaining your methods! :)


Jordan Newman

25th December 2011


Hi and Merry Christmas everyone!! I am going to practice this, and when I think there is something intelligent, I can post it and will be more than happy for constuctive criticism. Thank you Daniel, and everyone for the suggestions.


Warren Gates

25th December 2011


Thanks to all who pitched in to make my article a little more understood. Everyone has their own way of writing dialogue and there is no RIGHT or WRONG way. I suggest reading some of Elmore, a chapter or two, then a chapter or two of Stephen King. You'll get the drift of what I am trying to say.

Some very good points by contributors, and I'm sure that they will help.

GOD BLESS EVERYONE AND HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND PROSPEROUS AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR. May the Peace of Our Lord be with you all.


Don Yarber

25th December 2011


Please Login or Signup to continue this discussion.


Next discussion: Should I get a Twitter?