Friday, May 20, 2011

Starting the Conversation

I'm working on a scene in my current WIP where the hero confesses something to the heroine.  It's the most important dialogue in the book.  I'm not a dialogue specialist and I've been putting a lot to time into getting it exactly right without using silly tags or a boat load of adverbs.  If the reader isn't crying or at least choked up but the end of the scene, I failed to convey the emotions of my characters.

I have two books on writing dialogue, have read dozens of articles about it in writing journals and sat in on sessions at writing conferences.  It helps but I think I've learned the most from two other sources.  I have a few authors I think are dialogue gurus. Pick up a Nora Roberts book, a Robert Parker suspense novel, Jayne Ann Krentz or Lee Child and study their dialogue.  Sometimes Parker is too stingy with tags but he certainly never overuses them.  I keep books by each of these authors on my re-read shelf.

Another place to study dialogue is at the movies or on your favorite TV show.  No tags or adverbs there. Facial expressions, body language and tone color the meaning of the words spoken.  I try to figure out how to write that in so the reader knows my character is speaking 'hysterically' without using that cursed adverb.

I have a favorite version of Sense and Sensibility I watch on occasion.  In one of the final scenes when Edward visits Elinor and her family believes he has married another and broken her heart, the characters are sitting in awkward silence in their salon.  Elinor's little sister, noticing the tension but not knowing what to do about it, says something about the weather.  It's very funny and her sister pokes her in reprimand. 

Writing a conversation about the weather in your book would likely be very boring but in this movie scene it is perfect.  I think I'll go watch another favorite movie and study the dialogue.  That's not really procrastination before getting back to that difficult scene.

How did you learn to write dialogue?  What guides do you use to improve the dialogue in your novels?


  1. People keep telling me that dialogue is my biggest strength, but it comes naturally to me, so I don't know how to help. I just put my mind into my characters and pretend that I really am those characters at that moment, then I let the conversation go. If one interrupts the other then I show that. I do take out most of the natural things we do in actual conversations -- the uh's and hmm's and such.

  2. I always have trouble with dialogue! I like to go to coffee shops and eves drop. It's fun and I learn a lot but I do look a little creepy at times. Hummm....

  3. I get the actual dialogue first, just by listening. I shut my eyes, let the chactars talk, and try to write down what they said. Then I go back over what I've written and figure out what tags of descriptions the reader needs, to hear the conversation the way I did.

    I get good feedback on my dialogue so I think this method works for me.

  4. Obviously, proofing is not my strong suit. In the post above "tags of descriptions" should have been "tags or descriptions".

    I hate it when I do that.

  5. Reading screenplays from movies you like or that have the feel you're going for can help. Without the actor's face, jsut the words on the page, you can really see the mechanics of it.

  6. Good post, Susan. Nicely written. Tight. Good read. Good luck with your dialogue and enjoy the movie.

    I'm headed to the shop in a little bit. Working all weekend but soon to come up on a ten day holiday staycation.


  7. Like Ted Cross, I don't have a problem with my dialogue. If you haven't read it try' Voice and Style by Johnny Payne
    ISBN 0-89879-693-8

    How to develop your own voice as a writer, hone your personal writing style and create powerful character voices in your fiction.

    Write dialogue that delicately conveys the character's personality.

    Well, that what it says on the back of the book. I read the book a long time ago when I was first writing, so I hope this will be of some help to you.

  8. Who says I have learned! I have one test reader that rips apart my dialogue every time.
    Watching movies - good tip. I'm always up for watching movies.

  9. I love writing dialogue. I don't know how I learned it. I talk to myself a lot. I read the conversation aloud a lot to make sure that it sounds right.

    Parker is definitely a dialogue guru!

  10. I started with writing dialogue back in grade 2 ! but what i think is great - others sometimes don't.
    I watch and listen a lot to people around me. Key words without all the fluff work well.

  11. When I write, the stories play like movies in my head, and I'm mostly taking dictation. I've been told my dialogue's realistic, so my best advice is to do just that - vividly imagine it as a movie. It can be tricky to leave out the parts readers don't need, but you do a great job of it already.

  12. Yes, I'm fascinated by movie dialogue. I know someone had to write those lines. I try to make my dialogue read naturally, as if someone would actually say that.

    See, watching movies is research, not procrastination.


  13. I think I'm best at snappy dialogue. Quick back and forth. When I do that, I cut it to the bone so that it's clipped and fast.

  14. I love writing dialogue, which I think is down to me always talking. My advice would be to read your dialogue aloud and/or record it. Reading aloud and listening to it helps to pick up any awkward sentences or lines that do not sound right.

    You can do it!

    Ellie Garratt