Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Art of Dialogue: Building Relationships

By Julie Wright
part four of four

It's time for the fourth tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number four:


Alter relationships—either building or tearing down-- You can tell if people are falling in love or getting a divorce by the kind of conversation they’re having. Most of the time anyway.  One of my favorite lines in the movie Life as We Know It is right after the two main characters have a major fight. One of the secondary characters made a comment that, "If my ex-wife and I fought like that . . . we'd still be married." So although they were fighting, it was a fight filled with passion, one that led the viewing audience to believe that the couple was in love in spite of the cruelty they hurled at each other in the form of words.
 
What are your characters saying to one another? Are they shredding each other verbally? Is the popular girl standing out from the crowd by telling one of the unpopular girls that she looks cute? Is the soldier refusing an order from his commanding officer which will likely result in disciplinary action?
 
You can tell if your characters are becoming friends or determined enemies by their conversations.  The things we say to each other alters our relationships even when we aren’t meaning them to. An offhanded compliment may save one person's life while a random verbal dig at that same person might be what throws them over the edge and makes them overdose. Conversations are important.

In real life, people kind of shamble through their own sentences. They um and er a lot, they digress, interrupt themselves, and start over again with the ums and ers. It's hard to build a believable relationship in print with all that going on, so refine the dialogue to include only the important things.

Dialogue can do all of these things we've discussed over the month—reveal character, move the plot, set the tone, and alter relationships in one conversation, but it, at least, has to have one, otherwise the dialogue isn’t necessary.

 –It can also do one more thing. Dialogue can provide exposition and backstory…and you want to use this judiciously. Nothing will bore a reader faster than you using dialogue to tell your main character’s entire life story or telling the entire history of the world you’ve built through the character’s conversations. That being said, dialogue is a tool in which you can quickly (quickly being the key word here) give some additional information, such as back story so that you won’t end up with long, tedious passages of exposition.

Building relationships means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said the last few weeks, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone
  • Revealing the character
  • Building relationships

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Art of Dialogue: Reveal the Character

By Julie Wright
part three of four

It's time for the third tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number three:

Reveal the Character

We don’t learn about characters simply by what they do, or the exposition that is written; we can learn about them through what they say and just as important, how they say it. Some characters are quiet and reserved so every word they actually utter is like a gift. Think Phineas and Ferb. If Ferb ever says anything, you always pay more attention to it, because it hardly ever happens. You expect something profound and awesome to exit that guy's mouth.
 
Other characters say whatever pops into their heads. They're the non-filtered characters.  These people are annoying to most of the world. These are the people that you sometimes want to push off a cliff because you just need them to stop talking. I am a non-filtered conversationalist. Please don't push me off a cliff. I truly don't mean to be offensive. We are who we are . . .
 
Some people are opinionated. Some are conservative. Some people turn everything into a joke. Some people don’t even get jokes let alone tell them.

By using dialogue properly, we can SHOW a character who is a submissive kiss-up in the way he offers to do the Starbucks run when the boss mentions he needs a coffee. Or in the way the kiss-up walks in on his co-workers talking in the break room instead of working and insists he's going to tell the boss on all of them.  The author doesn't just tell the reader that Simon was a whiny, sniveling kiss-up. The dialogue shows it.

Revealing the character through dialogue is an ultimate SHOW don't TELL kind of move. Don't tell us she hates her mom. Drop us in the middle of the fight and show her yelling at her mom--saying the sorts of things that prove her feelings. Don't tell us it hurt him to say goodbye. Show his voice cracking as he stumbles over the one word that changes everything for him.
 
We learn a lot about people during the course of conversation. Use this tool to help your reader better know your characters, and for your characters to better know each other. The more your reader knows your character, the more your reader can empathize and love that character which means they will stay with your character until the very end.

Revealing the character means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said the last two weeks, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone
  • Revealing the character

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Art of Dialogue: Set the Tone

By Julie Wright
part two of four

It's time for the second tip of writing good dialogue. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things I am going to mention here, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number Two:

Set the Tone
If it’s funny, or serious, or scary—you’ll know by the dialogue. Setting sets the tone, too, and is  completely important in writing, but a setting can’t exactly explain the tone of the book because the same setting can have multiple purposes.
 
So let's say our characters are at a funeral home. It’s just two of them, because no one else has arrived, or maybe no one else is coming. They're standing at the casket looking at the solemn repose of the deceased. That’s the setting.
 
But what will set the tone is the conversation—or lack of conversation—the two characters will have.
 
Maybe they’re brothers and it’s their father’s funeral. Maybe they hate each other because Dad loved one over the other. The setting says sad funeral, but the tone might be an angry war between brothers.
 
Or it could be two teenagers at the funeral of the science teacher who left them a clue to his murder. So they’re there to figure out who the murderer is. Their conversation and tone will be one of tension, intrigue, and anticipation. The tone is a who-dunnit.
 
Or it could be a couple of friends at the funeral of a roommate who was totally insane, and they’re there joking around about who gets his room and his Fender guitar. The tone would be a dark comedy.

Or maybe the characters are talking about cutting off the dead guy's head. Kind of weird, but hey, it happens. An ounce of preventuion and all that . . . As they cast a casual glance over their shoulders to see if anyone else is watching them cut off the head, the newly deceased's eyes pop open. Seeing that no one else is present, they move to the gruesome task of staking the undead at the same time the undead is working on making a snack of the two of them.  (I hate it when I wake up hungry). That tone of that scene would be horror/action.
 
The same setting can produce lots of different tones depending on what the characters say when they open their mouths.
Setting the tone means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. Like I said last week, if you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is:
 
  • Moving the plot forward.
  • Setting the Tone

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Art of Dialogue: Move the Plot Forward

By Julie Wright
part one of four

Dialogue is one of the most important parts of effective writing to me. It's one of my strengths in my writing, and so it's disappointing to me when it isn't a strength of other writers. I won't care if your commas are scattered like dandelion seeds on a manicured lawn, but I will sigh mightily if the dialogue doesn't work.

Sigh and likely put your book down.

So here is the first of four tips on what your dialogue should accomplish. The next three tips will come each Tuesday for the next three weeks. Remember that dialogue can do all of the four things, but it has to do at least one of them in order to be of any use to your story.

Tip number one:

Move the Plot Forward
 
Dialogue is a place where your characters can learn new information that helps them deal with the conflicts they're experiencing.
  • This is where they make decisions about where to go from here.
  • This is where they argue, fall in love, declare war, ask for divorces, make peace. Basically, this is where we create tension and conflict.
  • This is where information is shared between characters that helps them understand if there is impending danger, or if the danger has moved on already. It helps build suspense.
  • This is where the reader comes to understand how the character fits into the plot they've been dropped into. It allows the character discovery opportunities.
  • This is where things happen because the characters say it’s happening.
Moving the plot forward means the dialogue is necessary. It has earned it's right to be in your story. I believe that writing is like owning an apartment complex. If you rent a few apartments out to people who aren't paying rent--you need to evict them so that you can maintain profitability and stay in business. If you have scenes of dialogue that aren't paying their rent by contributing to the book as a whole, then they need to be evicted. Squatters have no place in a good story. Nowhere is this more true than with dialogue. Make certain your dialogue is paying its rent. Make sure it is moving the plot forward.