Tuesday, 7 June 2011

10 Things about (written) Conversations

I don't know about you, but I'm a HUGE fan of lists. I have lists all over the place...on my pinboard above my desk, on the desk, on my laptop, on my phone and even on the door to my study (it's white, so it's kind of like a whiteboard...).

I shared one of my many lists with you last week (10 Things about Plotbunnies), and because I'm feeling a little creatively challenged right now, I'm going to share another one with you today. Who knows, maybe I'll make a serial thing out of it? ; )

So here goes....

10 Things about (Written) Conversations
(otherwise known as Dialogue)

  1. Conversations can move the (fictional) world (ok maybe the real one, too, but that's outside the scope of my blog - no, really, it is). Dialogue is a sensible fiction element to propel your story forward, to change pace, reveal backstory, set moods, show characters in more detail, indicate a theme you're going for - pretty much anything you like. Dialogue is a multi-purpose tool that every writer should be aware of. 
  2. People like to talk (at least most people do), so talking is a natural thing for your characters to do. Nonetheless one needs to be careful not to include dialogue just to include dialogue. It needs to come naturally to the characters, or the reader won't like it much. And with coming naturally to the character I also mean no stilted "Hello George, how are you today"-"I am fine, Michael, how are you?"-"I am well, George, but for this life and death problem I have..." - you know what I mean? 
  3. Dialogue can change the pace of your story, speeding it up or slowing it down, depending on what you need. Slow, rambling conversations can ease the mood and relax the reader, short sentences and exclamations indicate action and exitement, speeding things up again. 
  4. Dialogue can reveal quirks because nobody talks exactly the same as someone else. As a writer, this is something you can play with. You can use accents (though one needs to be careful not to overdo that), certain words a character may be fond of, dialogue tags revealing actions that are characteristic to one person or another.
  5. You don't write the same way you talk because  honestly, no one wants to read 'uhm' and 'ah' twice in every sentence. Written dialogue tends to be a lot more condensed - purposeful, even - than the real-life counterpart. Nonsense conversations get summarised into single sentences unless they have a particular point to bring across in the plot or character development. For example, you probably wouldn't add this (real-life) conversation to your story unless you had a REAL good reason: 
    • Uhm, could I have a latte, please? 
    • Would you like to double-shot that? Any flavours? 
    • Ah....maybe...yes, double-shot, please. Let me see...uhm....could I have that with a shot of chai sirup?
    • One dirty double-shot chai? Soy milk, skinny or full fat? Any whipped cream?
    • Uhm...that's a dirty chai? Eh...ok...skinny, please, no cream. 
    • One dirty double-shot skinny chai, coming up. What's your name?
    • My name? Uhm...why do you need that?
    • So we know which drink is yours, ma'am. 
    • Oh, all right. My name is Annie. 
    • Pleased to meet you, Ms Annie. Pick up your order at the end of the bar, please. 
    • Oh, wait! Could I have that iced, please? 
    • Of course, Ms Annie, one iced dirty double-shot skinny chai, coming up. 
    • Uh... so I get it at the end of the bar?
    • Yes, you do. 
    • Over there? 
    • Right there, ma'am.....
  6. People can reveal their own story, so you don't need prologues or backflashes or anything like that. They can tell the person they're talking to all about their life if they want to. Just be careful you don't include details for the sake of the reader that the parties involved would already know. No backstory links like "Oh Erik, do you remember when..." "Yes, Jessica, you mean when you...." or similar...
  7. Words can make you cry (or laugh) because they can carry emotions, and I don't mean saying "Oh no, I'm so sad I might cry any minute" *cue swoon* kind of dialogue. I mean words that come from the bottom of the characters' hearts, or from the bottom of their sarky souls or whatever. True feelings, my dears, that's what it's all about. Keep in mind that while it's true that you're supposed to show, not tell, your characters CAN tell (or is that showing in their own words?). 
  8. Dialogue can go horribly wrong in oh so many ways. I think the best rule to go with here is too much of a good thing can be really, really bad. Nothing should be overdone unless it's on purpose, for comedy reasons or something like that. 
  9. Dialogue can, in a way, indicate genre because the way people talk is different in different types of literature. A regency romance heroine is bound to speak in a different manner than a high-power urban-fantasy butt-kicking Amazon. 
  10. Dialogue is fun. Keep this in mind, please? 

So that's my quick-list on dialogue... any majorly important points you could add? Anything you totally, utterly disagree with? Let me know!
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