Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writing More Dialogue

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WEDNESDAY MAKEOVER: DIALOGUE

There are two extremes with writing dialogue. One is narrating and describing lengthy feelings and thoughts in the middle of a conversation to the extent that it breaks up the flow of the dialogue and makes the conversation hard to follow. Don't be afraid to carve some of that out and leave a streamlined back-and-forth without the "he said" and "she said" tags. The other extreme in writing dialogue is to have a conversation totally without tags or hints about what the main character is thinking or feeling--or rambling on so long the reader is in danger of losing track of who is talking. The best course of action is usually something in between.

DIALOGUE SAMPLE:

       Amy stormed into her room, where her little sister Mitzi sat giving Veterinarian Barbie a severe haircut with Mom's material scissors.
       "Where's my necklace?"
       "What necklace?"
       "You know the one. The one I got for Christmas, the one with the stars on it."
       "Dunno. Haven't seen it."
       "I bet you have."
       "Nope."
       "Liar. I saw you flicking at it yesterday when it was hanging on my lamp."
       "Then why are you asking me if I've seen it?"
       "Stop being a brat! I need to wear that necklace for tonight's party. The last time I saw it you were fiddling with it, so you had to have done something with it."
       "I didn't move it. You probably moved it yourself and forgot. Or Mom knocked it off when she was vacuuming."
       "Mom didn't vacuum yesterday. She did it Friday."
       "She always vacuums on Saturday."
       "Not this week. She did it a day early because she had to pick up Ryan from basketball."
       "I don't know, you creep! Leave me alone."

COMMENTS:
While there is a good back-and-forth going on here, it's pretty stark. We don't want to add so many descriptions and tags that it starts to bog down the conversation flow, but the natural rhythm of the dialogue and the clarity of the passage could be improved if we added a few tags and actions. In the case above, for starters, the first dialogue line needs a tag in order for the reader to be 100% certain that it's Amy saying the first line (especially since that first line is on a new line/paragraph).

REWRITE:

       Amy stormed into her room, where her little sister Mitzi sat giving Veterinarian Barbie a severe haircut with Mom's material scissors.
       "Where's my necklace?" Amy asked.
       Mitzi didn't look up. "What necklace?"
       "You know the one," Amy growled. "The one I got for Christmas, the one with the stars on it."
       "Dunno. Haven't seen it."
       "I bet you have."
       "Nope." Mitzi kept snipping.
       "Liar. I saw you flicking at it yesterday when it was hanging on my lamp."
       "Then why are you asking me if I've seen it?"
       "Stop being a brat! I need to wear that necklace for tonight's party. The last time I saw it you were fiddling with it, so you had to have done something with it."
       "I didn't move it," Mitzi said. "You probably moved it yourself and forgot. Or Mom knocked it off when she was vacuuming."
       "Mom didn't vacuum yesterday. She did it Friday."
       "She always vacuums on Saturday."
       "Not this week." Amy propped her fists on her hips. "She did it a day early because she had to pick up Ryan from basketball."
       "I don't know, you creep!" Mitzi cried. "Leave me alone."


The tags included here not only add a little tone and color, but they make it more clear who is talking. They also give clues as to how the characters are feeling (Mitzi not looking up, continuing to snip, Amy's fists on her hips indicating anger or impatience, etc.).

1 comment:

  1. Great post on dialogue structure. Wish I'd thought of doing a post like that. It's very informative, especially for new writers. I'm always looking for tips wherever I can find them. I look forward to reading all your posts. Have a great day!
    M.J.

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