Friday, 5 December 2014

6 Things To Remember About Writing Dialogue

1. Dialogue Matters

You can't write a novel without dialogue. For one thing it brings the characters to life and transforms them from dreamy inventions inside our heads to living, breathing people that jump out of the page at the reader. For another it allows the reader to get a better, more rounded appreciation for the character's thoughts, feelings, and actions. Ultimately, if the dialogue is good enough it helps the reader to fall in love with our characters and keep on reading.

2. Keep Narration to a Minimum

There should never be too much narration in a novel. Dialogue should always be the driving force that keeps the story humming and buzzing along, with the narrator's feet planted firmly in the background. Take for instance this excerpt from my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant:

Once he had finished, he got up and tried to leave the table, eager to watch some T.V, only for his dad to stop him.
“Jack, don’t forget it’s your turn to wash up today.” he said, irritated.
“Oh, come on dad,” he said. “Give me a break. I want to watch some TV.
“No, it’s your turn. Your mum has cooked the tea, so now you must wash up after her. Besides, it's the summer holidays now; you’ll have plenty of time to watch TV in the coming weeks.”
Okay, whatever.” Jack muttered under his breath.
What did you say?” barked his dad.

The highlighted sections of the dialogue tell the reader that a) Jack often has to do the washing up in his house b) he likes watching TV c) His Mum has cooked the tea (dinner) d) It's now the summer holidays e) Jack's a little rebellious f) His Dad is angry with him and g) He's not good with confrontations. All this information from barely 8 lines of dialogue! The role of the narrator in all this is to set the scene up at the start but after that it's up to the characters to take over and tell the story to the reader.

3. Keep It Real

Whenever your character speaks in your novel make sure that it is in keeping with their personality, level of intelligence, and socio-economic background etc. It's quite obvious to most readers that an unemployed man from Detroit will sound nothing like an Oxford-educated don and vice versa so it's imperative that you have your characters speak as they would speak in real life. Stephen King's novels for example, are littered with many a foul-mouthed blue-collar worker. The language might be a little obscene and vulgar at times but it's the truth.

4. Just for Laughs

Don't be afraid to make your dialogue funny (especially if like me you are a Young Adult writer). Just as in life characters should crack jokes, make silly mistakes, and say stupid things. In short, have fun with the dialogue. In Jack Strong and the Red Giant I created a whole character (Padget) just for this purpose:

“What's football?” asked Padget. “Do you kick a foot around?
“What? No, of course not,” said Jack.
“You play it with your feet. Well, if you’re the goalie you can use your hands. You kick a ball around and try to put it through the goal posts.”
“What? YOU have to do all the work. There’s no one to do it for you?”
“Well no, of course not. That's the point. It’s a physical game.”
“I'm sorry, I'm not interested,” said Padget, holding up his hands. “It sounds too much like hard work. Games like that are best left for the Skavs. Perhaps if I had one of my servo-bots with me, it could carry me.”

Aside from trying to get a laugh out of how the English language might sound to an alien (Padget), I've also used the comedic language to give the reader the image of a giant robot playing football. It's not Nobel Prize winning stuff for sure but I think my target audience will love it.

5. Interruptions

In your books, just as in real life, make sure to include frequent interruptions between your characters. Rarely, if ever does someone get to speak unimpeded and it should be like this in your books. Not all the time of course - you don't want to make it too confusing - but just enough to be believable and realistic to the reader.

6. Have a Social Life

Since it takes months and even years in some cases to write a novel I should spend all my time writing, right? No. Writing does take time - a lot of time - but having friends and going out is important, not least because it will give you some time off to relax and recuperate, but it's also important when it comes to writing dialogue. If you are not a social person then how can you accurately put words into your characters' mouths when you have little or no direct contact with other human beings? You don't have to be out with your friends all the time, just enough to ensure that you are getting a regular dose of modern day colloquial English.

Final Word

What are your experiences with dialogue? No matter what your thoughts and feelings are regarding this issue I would love to hear from you, whether that's in the comments section below or via Google+ or Facebook.

If you want to read my book Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below:

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