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Add Life to Your Dialogue

“Add Life to Your Dialogue” by Joan Y. Edwards

Dialogue is a great way for fiction writers to engage readers. You are a fiction writer. Great! Do you want to add life to your dialogue?  Of course, you do.

Take a look at the dialogue in a favorite part of your latest manuscript.  If your dialogue follows the six ideas below, it will keep your readers glued to the pages of your book from beginning to end. You will have the reader hooked. Your dialogue will exhibit great life.

Choose words to invigorate your dialogue.

  1. Simple dialog tags that ensure readers know who is talking. The simple tags keep the readers dwelling on the story.  That’s where you want them.

John said, “Don’t be kidding me!”
“I kid you not. The man held me at gun point!” said Jane.

Avoid complicated dialog tags. Complicated dialog tags take the reader out of the story. This may keep them out so long that they never finish reading your book.

John articulated, “Don’t be kidding me!”
“I kid you not. The man held me at gun point!” spoke up Jane.

2. If there are only two people talking, weave the information about who is talking into the paragraph before the dialogue begins so that you don’t need any dialogue tags.  Mark Twain often does this in  the  Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Let the readers know who is talking in the introductory paragraph or in the response and go back and forth with the conversation:

Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain About midnight Tom arrived with a boiled ham and a few trifles, and stopped in a dense undergrowth on a small bluff overlooking the meeting-place. It was starlight, and very still. The mighty river lay like an ocean at rest. Tom listened a moment, but no sound disturbed the quiet. Then he gave a low, distinct whistle. It was answered from under the bluff. Tom whistled twice more; these signals were answered in the same way. Then a guarded voice said: “Who goes there?” “Tom Sawyer, the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main. Name your names.” “Huck Finn the Red-Handed, and Joe Harper the Terror of the Seas.” Tom had furnished these titles, from his favorite literature. “’Tis well. Give the countersign.” Two hoarse whispers delivered the same awful word simultaneously to the brooding night: “Blood!” Then Tom tumbled his ham over the bluff and let himself down after it, tearing both skin and clothes to some extent in the effort. There was an easy, comfortable path along the shore under the bluff, but it lacked the advantages of difficulty and danger so valued by a pirate.

2. Instead of using the dialog tags (he said, she said) after the first two lines of dialogue, be creative. Between pieces of dialogue, add plot action, events, decisions, or discoveries that influence how your protagonist pursues his goal. Add actions and reactions that express each character’s emotions. According to Wikipedia, Emotion is often intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation.

John said, “Don’t be kidding me!” “I kid you not.” Jane took off her eyeglasses and stared him nose to nose. “The man held me at gun point!” …Joan Y. Edwards

Here’s an excerpt from Best Seller Beneath the Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan with added information about each character.

Beneath the Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan Pino watched him but heard the older woman say, “Which one, Albert? “Go with your heart,” said the man waiting on her behind he counter. Big, barrel-chested, and mustached, he wore a beautiful mouse-gray suit, starched white shirt, and a jaunty polka-dot bow tie. “But, I love them both,” his customer complained. Stroking his mustache and chuckling, he said, “Then, buy them both!” She hesitated, giggled. “Maybe I will, then!”

3. Show tension and disagreement – conflict –  between the characters who are talking. Show characters with different goals.
In real life, not all conversations show conflict. In a novel, every conversation has to make a difference and carry part of the plot with it. I wrote the following passage to help show tension and disagreement.

Ted looked out the window. The impending blizzard set his mind in a mode of fear. Would he be able to get Bella to the hospital if the baby came now?

Ted said, “Bella, are you feeling okay? Any contractions?”

Rubbing her belly, Bella said, “I’m fine. No contractions.”

Ted ran his fingers through his hair. “What if the blizzard traps us?”

“We’ll do fine. We’ve watched a million babies born in Westerns. How hard can it be?”

“Hard. I flunked birthing 101.”

“You flunked because you passed out. When it’s your own baby, you won’t pass out. Trust me. I know you, Ted. You won’t let me down.”

Ted fell to the floor. Bella shook his head from side to side.

“Ted, Ted. Speak to me, Ted.” Ted opened his eyes. “I love you, Bella. I can’t do this.”

Bella bent over. Her face etched in pain. “You’ll have to. The baby’s coming now.” … Joan Y. Edwards

4. If the dialogue is not essential, delete it. All dialogue should do one of these three things: move the story forward, provide essential information to understand the story, or to explain character motivation through actions, thoughts, and emotions. I wrote the following passage. See if you can find the words or sentences that would make the dialogue better if you eliminated it.

Oscar’s father, Fred, took one look at the bashed in fenders and doors on the left side of his 2018 blazing red Ferrari. He stomped his feet and threw the 30 gallon trash can against the garage wall.

Oscar was totally sure that his father was really angry with him.

Fred came behind the car. “Son, I told you to be careful.”

“I was. The driver of the other car ran the red light.”

“What color was the other car? How old was the driver? Did the police give him a ticket?”

Oscar put the knife back in his pocket. He was just making sure he had it. “Oh my goodness! You’re bleeding.” “The paramedic bandaged it. I must have bumped it again. “Let’s get a new bandage on that arm. Later on, the insurance agent is coming over.

Passage after deleting unnecessary sentences and words.

Fred, Oscar’s father, took one look at the bashed in fenders and doors on the left side of his 2018 blazing red Ferrari. He stomped his feet and threw the 30 gallon trash can against the garage wall. He came behind the car.

“Son, I told you to be careful.”

“I was. The driver of the other car ran the red light.”

“Oh my goodness! You’re bleeding.”

“The paramedic bandaged it. I must have bumped it again.”

“Let’s get a new bandage on that arm. Later on, the insurance agent is coming over. byJoan Y. Edwards

5. Vary the length of the lines of dialogue.

The following dialogue is from Moby Dick.  To study other great public domain books free, go to Gutenberg Project at
http://www. Gutenberg.org.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville “My boy,” said the landlord, “you’ll have the nightmare to a dead sartainty.”

“Landlord,” I whispered, “that aint the harpooneer is it?”

“Oh, no,” said he, looking a sort of diabolically funny, “the harpooneer is a dark complexioned chap. He never eats dumplings, he don’t—he eats nothing but steaks, and he likes ’em rare.”

“The devil he does,” says I.

“Where is that harpooneer? Is he here?”

“He’ll be here afore long,” was the answer. I could not help it, but I began to feel suspicious of this “dark complexioned” harpooneer. At any rate, I made up my mind that if it so turned out that we should sleep together, he must undress and get into bed before I did.

6. Use dialogue that flows easily. Read your dialogue aloud. If it sounds stuffy, it’s stuffy. I like the dialogue here. It’s humorous and states usefulness of a Time Machine.

The Time Machine: An Invention by H. G. Wells       

“But I have experimental verification,” said the Time Traveller.

“It would be remarkably convenient for the historian,” the Psychologist suggested.  

“One might travel back and verify the accepted account of the Battle of Hastings, for instance!”

“Don’t you think you would attract attention?” said the Medical Man.

“Our ancestors had no great tolerance for anachronisms.”

“One might get one’s Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato,” the Very Young Man thought.

“In which case they would certainly plough you for the Little-go. The German scholars have improved Greek so much.”                        

  “Then there is the future,” said the Very Young Man. “Just think! One might invest all one’s money, leave it to accumulate at interest, and hurry on ahead!”

I hope these ideas help you add life to your dialogue. I listed 25 resources below my signature to give you additional ways to invigorate your dialogue.

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The World Needs to Read What You Write
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2018-2022 Joan Y. Edwards

Resources

1. A.J. Humpage. “Sentences and Dialogue:” http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com/2011/04/part-3-sentences-and-dialogue.html

2. Beth Hill. “Bad Dialogue: Bad, Bad Dialogue.” http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/11/03/bad-dialogue-bad-bad-dialogue/

3. Bridget. Now Novel.  “Writing Dialogue: 7 Examples of Dialogues That Work: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-dialogue-examples/

4. Campus Times Pune. “15 Hollywood Movie Dialogues That Will Just Knock You Over:”
https://www.campustimespune.com/evergreen-hollywood-movie-dialogues/

5. Changing Minds.org. “Basic Emotions:
http://changingminds.org/explanations/emotions/basic%20emotions.htm

6. Diana Urban. “Words You Should Cut from Your Writing Immediately:” https://dianaurban.com/words-you-should-cut-from-your-writing-immediately

7. Ekman, P. (1972). Universals and Cultural Differences in Facial Expression of Emotion. In J. Cole ed. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 207-283.

8. Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Ellsworth, P. (1982). What emotion categories or dimensions can observers judge from facial behavior? In P. Ekman (Ed.), Emotion in the human face (pp. 39-55). New York: Cambridge University Press.

9. Frederic Raphael. “Frederic Raphael’s Top 10 Talkative Novels:”
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/mar/09/frederic-raphael-talkative-novels

10. Gloria Kempton. “How to Balance Action, Narrative and Dialogue in Your Novel:”  http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/how-to-balance-action-narrative-and-dialogue-in-your-novel

11. Jeff Elkins. “How to Write Dialogue without Using Adverbs:” https://thewritepractice.com/dialogue-adverbs/

12. Joanna Penn. 9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers Make with Dialogue:” https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/10/04/dialogue-mistakes/

13. Juan Orellana “The 20 Best Dialogue Scenes in Cinema History:” http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2016/the-20-best-dialogue-scenes-in-cinema-history/

14. Judy Cullins.  “How to Spice Up Your Writing with Dialogue:” https://thatactionguy.wordpress.com/2008/09/13/how-to-spice-up-your-writing-with-dialogue/

15. Monica. “What, Technically, is a “Beat” in a Screenplay?”
http://www.screenwriter-to-screenwriter.com/2009/06/what-technically-is-a-beat-in-a-screenplay/

16. Public Domain Books. Gutenberg Project. “Moby Dick:” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/2701-h/2701-h.htm#link2HCH0001

17. Quora forum. “Which Is the Most Inspirational Hollywood Movie Dialogue Ever?”https://www.quora.com/Which-is-the-most-Inspirational-Hollywood-Movie-dialogue-ever

18. Scott Francis. Writer’s Digest. “The 5 Best Ways to Make Your Characters Conversations Seem Real:”
http://www.writersdigest.com/uncategorized/writing-dialogue-the-5-best-ways-to-make-your-characters-conversations-seem-real 

19. Wikihow. “How to Format Dialogue in a Story:” https://www.wikihow.com/Format-Dialogue-in-a-Story 

20. Wikipedia. “List of Emotions:” https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emotions

 

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2009-2022 Joan Y. Edwards

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Choose Dialogue to Define Your Characters

“Choose Dialogue to Define Your Characters” by Joan Y. Edwards

No character in your story is the same. Even twins are different in ways that their families know best. And as a writer, you know all the low-down on each of your characters. They can’t hide from you.

You know their goals and aspirations. You know the problem that’s coming around the corner to make them believe that the end of their world is coming very soon unless they do something. Your character cannot depend on others to solve his problem for him. Your dialogue should show their goals and aspirations.

The dialogue should show conflict with other characters.

How do you show the goals and conflicts with other characters? Choose words that bring out the goals and conflicts.

Kristen Kieffer stated “With individual personalities, cultural influences, experiences, and world views, its no wonder people verbally interact with the world in different ways, and so our characters should as well. Doing so not only helps to distinguish them from the other characters in our stories, but to add depth and realism to their characterization.” 

Use dialogue to show a character’s unique qualities and differences. Highlight the traits that must change to meet the inner/outer needs to win the fight or to solve his problem that’s overwhelming him in this conflict.

Read each character’s dialogue aloud. Does it have a different cadence? A different speech pattern.

What Traits Do Your Characters Possess?

Personality: mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, social, dependable behavior, erratic behavior

Culture:  music, art, photography, theater, movies, sports, religious beliefs, religious practices, world political  points of view, local citizenship, vote or not vote, obey or not obey the laws, obeys no laws,  disobeys particular laws, disobeys every law,

Physical Attributes: physical strengths, so-so abilities, and weaknesses,

Habits: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly

Family: habits, male in power, female in power, shared power

Education no education, high school, college, master’s degree, doctorate, community college, school for mechanics, technology,

Job: Does he have a job? How long has he had his job?

Experience: past experience that decides present situation problems and outcomes

Three Films That Have Great Dialogue

In the film, My Cousin Vinny, you can tell by the conversations  with the judge and others that Vinny doesn’t always tell the truth, but he can tell when someone else is not telling the truth. Mona Lisa Vito constantly asks Vinny how she can help him prove the innocence of his nephew. This shows her sincerity. Almost all  of Mona’s dialogue in the film indicates her knowledge of automobiles so that when she presents evidence in court that saves the boys and proves their innocence, it is not a complete surprise to the audience. They know she’s an expert before she gets on the stand.

You can tell by the conversation in The Shawshank Redemption, 
that Andy Dufresne played by Tim Robbins is very resourceful and that he never gives up. He bombards the federal government with pleas for books every day for years. Then they get the books.  He does decent things to help all the other prisoners which makes you wonder if this is going to pay off for him and help him get out.   Each thing that helps redeem him is masterfully setup and the payoffs are wonderful. It has a lot of violence but it is a great film to show how each item in a story sets up action or event pay off later in the plot. Each conversation by Andy in the movie leads up to the solution of his problem.

In The Proposal, Margaret Tate’s dialogue lets you know that she is selfish.  Andrew Paxton, his mother and grandmother show her unconditional love and she changes. She begins to care and to love them.

You can also have one character’s dialogue explain or hint at a another character’s trait.

Listen to the first 15 minutes of three of your favorite films. Notice how the dialogue shows essential character traits that will either save him or become his Waterloo.

Look at the first three chapters of your book or best-selling novels and see where you can add or take away bits of conversation to strengthen the book. Discover ways to let your readers know your main character and the conflicts he has with those who are with him on his journey to his goal.

If you’re illustrating a book, knowing the flaws and strengths of your characters, will help you hint to them in your artwork. I’d like to hear your favorite dialogue that defines your characters  and illustrates character traits that are essential to theme of your story.

Good luck to you in all of your writing endeavors.  Below my signature, I listed links to great articles with other ideas for making your dialogue define your characters.

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Copyright © 2018 Joan Y. Edwards
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