Thursday 13 September 2012

How to Write Dialogue like a Pro

At last I've found the time to listen to Writer's Digest University's On-Line Webinar HOW TO WRITE DIALOGUE LIKE A PRO I was supposed to attend in February 2012, but life interfered. Luckily, WD sends a recorded version which attendees can listen to for up to a year.

Multi-published author ELIZABETH SIMS conducted the webinar.  During the 90 minute programme, Ms Sims discussed the major points of what makes dialogue great. She covered topics such as:

*how to develop dialogue
*how to generate dialogue
*dialogue techniques
*how to craft dialogue to fit your characters

Below, I share the highlights of the webinar with you. If you find them interesting, and want to listen to the full webinar, you can download it from the Writer's Digest On-Line Shop

What is dialogue? Dialogue is a living part of writing and should be an author's servant

Fiction today: While the great classical tomes of the past were narrative heavy, today's reader wants a dialogue heavy story. Dickens is the exception: his stories were first published as serials in magazines, so Dickens used great dialogue to keep his readers interested (and buying the magazines week after week!)

Great dialogue:

*sounds real
*fits each individual character
*develops characters
*moves story forward

The paradox of dialogue: author's must write dialogue that sounds natural, but real life dialogue is often awfully boring when transcribed to a page

Study plays for dialogue tips: Speakers use tone and cadence to get meaning across in dialogue. Study the plays of Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Edward Albee for effective dialogue
The reasons people talk are myriad. People talk to:

*communicate neutral facts
*give warning
*keep from feeling
*avoid listening
*fill silences
*say 'I love you"

Can you think of other reasons people talk?

Develop sensitivity to ambient speech:

*watch out for opportunities (eavesdrop in a coffee shop)
*makes notes
*look for context of the speech you are hearing

Your goal as author is to listen to CONTENT and DELIVERY of speech and then use how real people talk in your own context.

Brainstorming dialogue:

*ask: what do I need in this scene? Do the characters really need to talk?
*become the character: leave your persona behind and delve into the emotions of the character who is speaking
*be irrational: people don't always act rationally and neither should your characters

If uncertain whether dialogue is needed, try some action instead.

Use dialogue to portray emotion: mix dialogue with action "I'm sorry" versus She groped for a response. "I-I'm sorry." Can you see the difference?

Make your characters sound different:

*use dialogue markers
*use distinct vocal characteristics
*consider sonic characteristics such as pitch (frequency of sound) and timbre (tonal quality of sound)
*use narrative and description or metaphors and similes to describe voices
*use habitual verbal markers such as contractions, elisions, ejaculations, slang and idiom

Always write for a perceptive reader- never dumb your dialogue down.

Punctuation in dialogue: a subtle but effective technique to enhance dialogue. Use your punctuation effectively.

Sundry other topics such as internal dialogue, foreign languages, dialects, and invented language (e.g. in sci-fi) were also discussed. The webinar ended with a Q + A session where Ms Sims dealt with real queries authors experience during the writing process.

If you struggle with your dialogue writing techniques, this webinar is a good way to learn how to write dialogue like a pro. If you are a pro, then this webinar will help you brush up your dialogue skills.

Free image from ClipArt


J.B. Chicoine said...

I love writing dialogue. It's often the 'sketch' I use to outline a scene, and then build from there.

In real life, I think another reason why people talk (okay, maybe it's just me) is to alleviate/mask nervousness, especially around people we (I) don't know well.

Good reminders, Judy. Thanks for taking the time to post them! :)

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

JB: Dialogue is my least favourite. I love writing reams of lyrical prose, but of course readers today don't want that, so I'm really working on my dialogue. And I agree with you - one of the reasons I talk (and talk and talk) is when I'm most nervous or insecure around strangers. Wish I could stop it and listen more! :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. what a great webinar - I hope to get into doing something tangible with some writing workshops - but may wait til next year ... a few things still to sort out, and need to settle into life again -

Good for you .. and this will be a handy reference tool .. cheers Hilary

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

HILARY: Nice to hear from you - you're so good about visiting blogs! :) I've found the Writer's Digest webinars a wonderful way of distance learning about writing techniques. And the best part is that if you wait a few weeks you can buy them from the archives at about half the price! (Of course you miss out on the Q&A if you have any specific writing questions, but you still benefit from the core webinar)

Anonymous said...

Judy, I'm glad my webinar sparked ideas. (And thanks for attendint!) When I'm writing dialogue it always helps if I focus on the emotion the characters are feeling. Emotions drive words.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

ELIZABETH: Thanks for popping in to my blog and thanks for the extra tip! Your webinar brought a lot of my problems with dialogue into focus (and made it almost seem easy! ha ha!)