Tuesday, 26 October 2010

My Characters’ Dialogue Sounds like a Soap Opera

Putting words in character’s mouths for novel writing may feel like pulling teeth for some. Dialogue sounds stilted, clichéd or lack distinction. Scenes containing character conversation ramble in a monotone way or fail to drive the story forward. What can the author do to write great dialogue for characters that make the novel sparkle?

How Not to Write Dialogue

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Write Great Fiction)
Narrative Ficiton
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Before making improvements to character speech within the novel, the writer needs to address the culprits such as the following.

Having too much dialogue within the story, particularly if the scenes contain a spitfire kind of discourse between people that can make the reader feel pummelled over the head such as the following example:

“What do you mean by that?” he demanded
“It wasn’t how it sounded,” she whispered.
“I’m going,” he said leaving.
“Wait!” she uttered.

Another culprit is allowing dialogue to leak into the story that serves no purpose, such as chitchat about the weather or small talk (unless, of course, it is to reveal character or convey an atmosphere).

Or dialogue that serves only to impart information for the purposes of the plot, such as:

“Hi, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.”
“Yes, must have been two years at least.”
“Before the accident wasn’t it?”
“Yes, I lost my memory for six months, but I am beginning to remember fragments about what really happened.”

The following also should be looked out for when improving character dialogue:
  • Dialogue that lack distinction which could be spoken by any of the characters.
  • Hackneyed words or expressions that only a stereotype would utter, or words that seem too dramatic or more suited to a soap or pantomime.
Ideal Dialogue for Creative Writing

The following tips on writing realistic dialogue will help improve the novel immensely:
Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)
Creative Writing Exercises
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Listen to real life conversation and look out for idiosyncrasies, favoured words or expressions that are unique to different people. The close observer will also notice that real conversation contains lots of false starts, repetitions and meaningless chatter. The key is to distil the conversation into the barest elements without losing its authentic flavour.

Get to know the character well within the story, this means drives, motives and background. Having a character questionnaire will help the writer get a feel for how the character speaks, and behaves. Ensure that each character has his or her own speech signature where the reader need not look at the attribution to know who is speaking.

Look for opportunities for subtext. Not every emotion or opinion needs to be voiced. Body language or even silence can pile more tension than vocal expression. Rhetoric, evasion or double meaning in conversation will create suspense in fictional conversation.

See the link to my blog novel, Nora to see how I used subtext to convey a policeman's doubts over a suspect's claims she wasn't present at the scene of an accident. Scroll to bottom to read the discourse between two characters. In my blog novel, Nora, we can sense Nancy's evasion by pauses and silences.

How to Write Great Dialogue

Dialogue should only be used is it serves a purpose, either to reveal character or drive the story. Cut out dialogue that serves no purpose. This means idle chitchat or overtly expressing every thought and emotion. A good blend of action, narrative and dialogue helps to vary the pace and keep the reader interested. This means including dialogue only if it forms part of the driving force of the novel.

External Links on Writing Fictional Dialogue

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