This past wednesday I was fortunate enough to spend the day with several fellow writers from my writers group. Tami Absi is a teacher for ECOT.
She teaches English and one of her topics this coming year will be writing so she invited us to help her make video to use in her classroom. So we spent the day in Columbus, in a fairly small room shooting video.
For the video, Tami gave each of us, Cyndi Pauwels, Grant Thurman, and myself, a set of questions. Each set of questions were the same, however modified for whatever topic she thought each of us did the best. As anyone who knows me, or has talked with me, when I’m comfortable, I like to talk. I’ve been called motormouth before. Thus it shouldn’t surprise you that my topic was dialogue. Tami and most of my writer’s group, pat myself on the back, say I do dialogue really well. I suggested she call me the dialogue whore as my novels tend to be heavy with it. That got nixed- apparently not appropriate for high schoolers. LOL
Here are my questions and how I answered them.
How does a writer avoid boring dialogue?
It’s important that the dialogue you include does all three of the following things. It needs to sound like real people talking without the back and forth “hi” type conversation. There needs to be direction to the dialogue, move the story along. And it needs to develop the characters. Dialogue is more than just words however, it includes movement, people don’t stand stiff and talk.
How do you build tension in the dialogue?
Characters need to want something, need to convey something and the author needs to know who they are and what drives them. Provide obstacles for the characters to achieve those wants. The way the characters talk, maybe they’re usually a very quiet person using as few words as possible and suddenly they run at the mouth. Or they talk all the time and go silent, use phrases they most often avoid, a pause can show hesitation, running over someone to push a point. Dialogue is more than just the words used, it’s facial expression, and movement. A run of hand through hair expresses a lot, just as a slow exhale, or a well placed expletive, ie: dag it.
Explain the voice for a particular character?
In Not Her Father’s Son part of Alex’s voice is her frequently repeated “work and home” and her single word of irritation, “Christ.” Both those simple things shows the reader a lot about the character. Movement again, when Alex is trying not to allow a certain emotion to overtake her, trying not to say something she’ll regret, she presses a fisted hand into the side of her leg.
How do you keep track of the voice a particular character uses?
I personally don’t have a system for this. It’s more because as the author I really know the character, they’re real to me. Some authors use note cards or a spread sheet of all the characters characteristics for a given manuscript.
When is too much dialogue, too much?
Depends on the story. Remember this, if it bores you, it’s going to bore the reader, if it doesn’t move the story or give us more about a character, it doesn’t belong. Every time a new character comes on the scene, the rhetorical “hi, how are you?” is unneeded and annoying after a while. As a dialogue whore, I don’t think there can be too much dialogue if you’ve followed these guidelines.
What works for you? Are you a note card hoarder? Do you have a spreadsheet? As a reader, what bothers you?
Leave you pets peeves.