Monthly Archives: June 2009

Getting Dialogue to Develop

I have been told by several people that I am good at writing dialogue. My characters sound realistic and the speech flows well from one to another. I’ve thought about how I developed this technique, and it was only the other day that I came to some sound conclusions.

My daughters had been playing dolls, and as I was working in the other room, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. They were creating their own adventures through their adlibbed dialogue. It suddenly dawned on me that this was how I learned. No, I wasn’t big on dolls, although I did play a little with my older sister; but we did play dress up and we made up stories and had our own made up conversations.

Then I would play with my Matchbox cars and create adventures there. And when I drew my superheroes, I had to create their dialogue, too. My childhood seemed to be a series of opportunities to make up conversation.

Now, as I write, I envision the characters speaking. I can have whole conversations going on in my head between the characters that I just type up, allowing for smooth dialogue.

Although my “training” started at a young age, it’s never too late to learn to dialogue. Do you have kids or grandkids you can play with? Try some make-believe with them. Don’t have any children? Go to the playground and observe kids in conversation. Volunteer for Sunday School and again listen in. Fill yourself with opportunities to either make believe or to listen to how kids create their own stories. Then sit down at your computer and type away. After a bit the process will become very natural.

Contributed by Catherine L. Osornio



Another thought on dialogue.

1. Use a filter.
Just like you put a filter in your coffee maker before you make coffee, you need to filter dialogue.

Example of No Filter
Joe: “Hi. How have you been?”
Mary: “Actually, I’ve been sick. Had a flu bug and wound up in the hospital.”
Joe: “I’m sorry to hear that. I work at a local hospital. Which one were you in?”
Mary: “St. Anthony’s. Nice people there. They really took good care of me.”

Example of Filtered
Joe: “Hi. How have you been?”
Mary: “Actually, I’ve had the flu.”
Joe: “Sorry to hear that.”

You may not want to eliminate as much as I did but you see my point. We got the “basics,” she had the flu and he’s sorry to hear that she did. Unless the hospital has something to do with the story, it is only “fluff,” filler that can be filtered out.

Like a filter makes for better coffee, filtered dialogue can make a better manuscript. So filter!

Hoping to filter my coffee AND my manuscripts, Gloria

Say What?

How much is too much dialogue?

The saying, “Talk much, say little,” goes for the written word, too, and while it can be boring not to have any dialogue, a little does go a long way, especially for children. I had a boy say to another boy about the girl character that she talked too much. I know this is “Tell, not show,” but I thought in this case it was preferred. I’m still unsure about it. What do you writers think about this? It’s in a middle-grade book.

-contributed by Shirley Shibley

God Speaks

Some of the most powerful examples of dialogue are found in the Bible when God, Himself, speaks.

In Genesis 3:8-9, we read:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

In Luke 23:34:
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

In Revelation 22:17, the Holy Spirit speaks:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

As we make it our goal to hone our writer’s craft to perfection and create realistic dialogue that sings, let’s make it a priority to sit each day in God’s presence and write down examples where He speaks to our heart.

Each day, take pen and paper in hand and journal your conversations with God. Learn to linger in His sweet presence. Write down your questions, your sorrows, your joys, and your discoveries. Wait for God to speak, and then write down the words He shares with you.

This time of daily refreshment lingering in the delightful presence of the Lord while journaling your dialogue with your Beloved will teach you to add depth and realism and honesty and beauty to the dialogue in your manuscripts in ways you could only have imagined. It will also bless you in a million indescribable ways!

-contributed by Nancy I. Sanders

Something to Consider

Recently, on a website for writers, I read an interesting opinion, written by a teacher of college-level writing workshops.  It applies to dialogue as well as to other aspects of our writing.  

I can’t recall his name, but he said, in part, that he believes that the main purpose of writing workshops and critique groups is not so much the comments we receive from other writers about our work but the comments we, ourselves, make about the work of others.  When we look for weakness in plot and structure, character and voice, and of course, how the dialogue reads and sounds, and write down our notes on someone else’s manuscript, it strengthens our own writing.  While what others perceive is helpful, our best insights to our own work come as we read and note what others have done.

I thought this was an interesting observation, and while I don’t necessarily agree with it completely, I thought it was certainly something to consider.

Contributed by Marjorie Flathers

Finding Voice in Dialogue

When you read the dialogue in your short story or novel, does it all sound the same? Could any one of your characters have spoken those words?

If so, you are missing the key element of voice. That’s right. Voice means more than the way YOU put together sentences, the way YOU use metaphors and similes, the way YOU make your narrative sing.

Your own voice is not enough. The voice of each of your characters must be unique, reflecting that person’s personality, quirks, sense of humor, likes and dislikes, dreams and despairs. Of course, some of this comes through in body movements and facial expressions. The lift of an eyebrow, a shoulder shrug, fingers that go tap-tap-tap, a mouth that smiles without pleasure — all these are indicative of that person’s personality and, hence, his/her voice.

But an even more convincing way to establish the sound of a character is through the spoken word. Here is an example from my middle grade novel The Crooked Gate. The scene shows a confrontation between Cass (the viewpoint character) and her highly eccentric aunt, with whom she is spending the summer:

            Aunt Mathilda held up one finger and wagged it back and forth. “This room is out of bounds. Now, I wouldn’t want anyone to bleed to death. So untidy. Or drown either. What would I tell your poor mother? You can call me in cases like those. But as far as peanut butter goes…you’re on your own.”

            “Peanut Butter?” Cass’s voice squeaked.

            “And Jelly.” Aunt Mathilda smiled.

            Cass felt like she was reading a book with thick gravy spilled in blobs all over the pages. She wondered if she could get a straight answer to anything.

            “Aunt Mathilda,” she ventured.

            “Yes, dear?”

            “What is it that you do up here?”

            “What do I do? Why, my dear child, I’m a writer, so I write.”

            “All the time?”

            “No. Some of the time I get ready.”

            “For what?”

            “For writing.” Then Aunt Mathilda gave a little chuckle. “Among other things.”

            Dialogue, at its best, creates the sounds of characters, making each one unique and, at the same time, letting voice move the plot along and capture the imagination of the reader.

Submitted by Marilyn Donahue

Following Dialogue

I like reading dialogue, but there have been times when I had difficulty following along, especially when more than two people were in the conversation. So how do we as writers solve this problem? Give the reader some clues to help distinguish who’s who.

Here is an example:

Tom looked at his two friends. “I really think we can do this.”

Bob shook his head. “It’s too hard.”

“I think I should handle this alone.”

Bob and Tom turned to look at Alice.

“Are you nuts?” Tom asked. “What makes you think you can waltz into Mr. Laraby’s office and give him the news. We need to do this together.”

“It was my idea. You shouldn’t get the blame.”

“But Tom and I agreed to help. I say all for one and one for all.”

Were you able to follow? Even though Alice didn’t have any tags in her dialogue, it was easy to tell when she was talking because of the reactions, both physical and verbal, of the others.

Make sure to leave dialogue clues in your writing, so the reader can keep track of who’s speaking to whom.

Contributed by Catherine L. Osornio