Friday 30 October 2009


Paradoxically, in the art of writing, it’s the power of the spoken word that can make or break your novel. Properly crafted dialogue can be used to:

• convey background information about your characters
• control the pace of the story
• reveal the emotions of your characters
• tell the reader what is relevant to the current situation
• break up the narrative of story so that your reader does not get bored and
• help create conflict

But if you think writing good dialogue is a simple matter of a couple of quotation marks and a speech tag, think again.

There are four types of dialogue.

Directed Dialogue: where one character drives the conversation in a certain direction and is directly answered by another character. The author uses this type of dialogue to set up tensions and issues that will surface later. The movement of the dialogue is directly from character A to character B.

Misdirected Dialogue: the movement of the dialogue is random. It sounds more like a real conversation in that characters don’t answer direct questions, or the subject matter may change, or other characters may chip in with unrelated comments. Here the author is using the natural rhythms and cadences of the spoken word to create tension.

Interpolated Dialogue: narrative exposition interrupts the dialogue for the purpose of interpreting what is implicit. Interpolated dialogue thus gives the reader subtle insight into the character’s deepest motivations behind the simplest dialogue. Here, the dialogue moves the story into a deeper revelation of one particular character.

Modulated Dialogue: this dialogue becomes the springboard for other details. These details can be introduced in a key memory, or to complicate the present situation, or as a means of exploring the tensions more overtly. The movement can be from dialogue to speculation or observation or flashback. The emphasis will not be interpretation (as in interpolated dialogue) but must focus on seamlessly merging scene, setting, tension and background.

Effective dialogue should have a purpose. All dialogue must either further the plot or reveal something about the story or characters. But beware that you do not force the dialogue to suit your authorial purpose. The best dialogue appears perfectly natural. And that's because every syllable, every word, will have been reworked into a finely tuned rhythm that brings the characters in your novel to life.

You will find examples of the different types of dialogue in the next post

For an excellent work book on dialogue, consider "Writing Dialogue" by Tom Chiarella, which provided the research material for this article.

Monday 12 October 2009

BOOK REVIEW: “Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying your Authentic Voice” by Laraine Herring

If I had to describe this author’s approach to teaching writing in one word, that word would be “unique”. And fascinating. And unusual, practical and useful.

By combining oriental spiritual principles and western writing techniques, Laraine Herring has produced a writing book that finds the perfect balance between craft and creativity.

Perhaps because I do meditation (regularly) and yoga (desultorily), as I worked through this book, the meaning of my authentic voice became real for the first time. The author articulated all the difficulties I have with writer’s block (which some authors say don’t exist) and gave a sensible explanation for it: as writers, every time we write authentically, we brave the depths of our very souls [Pg 16]. Writer’s block is thus a fear-based pattern because, as we write, we don’t know what we’re going to find in our deepest psyche. Writer’s block is that discomfort arising when our writing takes us to places inside ourself that we’d rather avoid [Pg 154]. Too true!

Each of the three sections of the book deals with a critical part of writing. Part 1 describes the tools for growth; Part 2 explores the craft of writing and Part 3 shows us how we must let go our old work and move on to our next story if we are to progress as writers.

The chapters are short and easy to read. There are “Body Breaks” and “Touchstones” scattered at crucial intervals. The former are quick and simple yoga exercises, many of which can be done in the chair, and we are told how these exercises will benefit our writing process. The latter are writing exercises listed at the end of each chapter. But, as with everything in this book, these are not just ordinary writing exercises. They also challenge us to grow as both writers and as individuals.

If you hold onto the goal of publication as the hallmark of your success as a writer, you are giving away your power. [Pg 73]

The above quote is one of the many drops of wisdom the author offers her readers. She also guides us to various sources of writing: the earth, our ancestors and our body. Her advice to listen to voices of our ancestors particularly resonated with me for I, too, hear the call of the ancestral spirits crying down the ages.

Ms Herring’s successful blend of Western writing technique and Eastern philosophy is both innovative and appealing. I can’t help but feel that it has positively transformed both my approach to writing and my view of myself as a writer. This book is a gem well worth adding to your writer’s reference shelf.

If you will enjoy this writing book, you may find my writing tip “The Way of the Warrior” of interest.

Author Laraine Herring’s blog can be found by clicking here.

Buy “Writing Begins with the Breath” at Amazon or Shambhala