Okay I'm sorry. Let's get started with today's lesson okay?
Today's lesson is all about DIALOGUE. The interaction between two or more human beings is so essential to any story and yet a lot of writers struggle with it. I'm by no means an expert but my best piece of advice is to be an active drama geek when writing anything. By that I mean be conscious of the words you're putting into people's mouths. Is it in character? Is it period-appropriate? Did it actually need to be said? This comes back to what I talked about earlier about describing your character's emotions without saying them directly. What they say and how they say it is also key to understanding how your characters are feelings.
Dialogue is also a great place to drop backstory and scene direction. Not full paragraphs, just a sentence here and there to create movement. Think of them as stage directions. As I say that I do need to point out this one piece of advice that I received a while ago (that I'm still guilty of): let your words speak for themselves. Dialogue tags are important but keep them only when they're necessary. If your character is shouting "I hate you" we assume that she's angry unless you've indicated otherwise. Only state an emotion if it's not abundantly clear. Watch your adverbs.
I've always found that reading dialogue out loud is the best way to edit. It makes sense; if you can't say it, how do you expect your characters to? This also means you need to be aware of how your character is delivering a line. Do they have an accent or a speech impediment? You then have to make a choice as a writer on how you're going to display that to the audience through spelling and grammar and all the nit picky stuff that I'm really just not that good at.
I have this little trick that I do to help me getting into my character's head. Want to try?
Seriously, this is my favourite thing to do when writing and I really hope you at least try it out.
Okay, close your door or head to a spot where you won't be disturbed.
Get a tape recorder or a piece of paper (you just need something to write notes).
Find a chunk of dialogue in your story OR, alternatively, pick a scene with lots of dialogue that you want to write.
ACT OUT YOUR SCENE.
I'm totally serious. Find your characters, find your voice and perform your scene. If you're still developing the dialogue a neat trick is to record it so you can play it back and see what worked and what didn't. It may seem silly but it's super fun and I find it easier to figure out the logistics of scenes. You can't write about life if you've never lived it (yes I'm paraphrasing a famous quote; it's relevant).
If you're ready to take it one step further in your dialogue exploration, here are some activities to get you ready for writing those marathon scenes:
- Pick a person that you've come into contact with today (can be a co-worker or a jerk on the road etc.) and pick one of your characters and put them in a setting of your choosing and write a scene about what they would say to each other.
- Choose two characters least likely to ever interact in your plot as it is now. How would they interact?
- Write a confrontational scene between two characters who are directly at odds. They don't even have to be main characters. It can be one character confronting the paper boy who keeps throwing the paper into the bush. Anything.
- Choose two characters with opposing speech patterns (one who talks with an accent or talks "politely" etc.) and write a dialogue for them with no description, just words passed between them.