Friday, 5 April 2013

A-Z Blogging Challenge: D: is for Dialogue

My theme: Writing and the business of writing

[I know, I know it's 5th April today and I should be on E, but I'm running a day late…Yesterday, I couldn't get away from the office (yes, I have a day job), and in the evening I had promised to go to a members' viewing of Lichtenstein's Retrospective at Tate Modern with Daughter. By the time we were at home, the splitting head ache from which I'd suffered most of the day, got worse, so I'm afraid I abandoned any thoughts of the A-Z  Blogging Challenge. (And did your dog also eat your homework, I hear you ask. Tsk!) I will catch up, I promise!]

Dialogue is a very important part of any work of fiction. It gives the reader a breathing space from block text and it can also give the story a funny, or sad, interlude. 

Done well, it should highlight the peculiarities of your characters. So if your heroine is a self-absorbed woman, she may well talk too much; an Alpha male may just utter the occasional command. That's if your book is filled with caricatures, but you get the point?

Dialogue should take the plot forward, so it shouldn't repeat what's said in the text (unless this is a particular style of course - every rule should be broken and all that). This is something we all fall for at times. The sentence below is from my latest book, The Red King of Helsinki

The Colonel gave him a set of car keys and told him where to find it, 'It's a moss green Opel Kadett parked in bay 229 in the car park underneath Erottaja. You know the air shelter?'

The highlighted words were removed by my editor with the comment, "We know he tells Iain where to find the car, because he does so in the next sentence." Doh! 

There's nothing worse than dialogue that doesn't flow. Non-writers often think dialogue is something we writers pick up word for word on the tube or listening in to people's conversations in a cafe. This is partly true, however, most real conversations make very poor dialogue. Just try to write down all the words next time you're listening in on two or more people having a conversation. It's impossible because first of all there are too many Umms, Ahhs, Errs and Y'know's. There are too many repetitions and too much talking over one another. There are references to people and places you don't know. What writers do is modify, or fictionalise, what they overhear. We take away the repetitions, we add people, places and plot twists we have in the book, and we above all shorten the conversation. 

And that's how good dialogue happens.  

1 comment:

viridian said...

I agree, writing good dialogue is a gift. I took minutes for a meeting recently (filling in for someone) and therefore had to listen closely. How true, the umms, the repetitions, the talking over each other.
Dropping by from A to Z challenge!