Dialogue Dish Du Jour – Tawk to Me
“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
WHY IS DIALOGUE IMPORTANT?
In these times of fast paced media and technology it takes a great piece of fiction to hold the interest of your juvenile reader. It is certainly a character-driven plot-driven world we live in.
The importance of great dialogue in your story cannot be overemphasized. Dialogue brings a novel to life. In children’s literature, dialogue is at the pulse of emotion, plot, conflict, drama. Think about the children you know – they are always talking, texting, listening, watching. A good plot line is essential to a good story – but great dialogue moves that plot line along.
I look for lots of dialogue in a book. Dialogue develops three dimensional characters. And it deepens the storyline and helps drive the plot.
Everybody’s talkin’ at me
I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’,
Only the echoes of my mind.
People stopping staring,
I can’t see their faces,
Only the shadows of their eyes.
FUNCTIONS OF DIALOGUE
- Dialogue reveals character. In what is said (or left unsaid), dialogue helps the reader understand the character’s personality, thoughts, attitudes, where they are coming from. A person gets to know a character in the same way that he gets to know a real person–through his or her speech and behavior. Think about your character’s traits when crafting their speech – are they egotistical? Blunt? Honest? Mean? Sweet? Loving?
- Dialogue can show what one character thinks of another character. Shows how characters relate to one another, makes them more realistic, and deepens their dimension. We can visualize their story and how they are connected.
- Dialogue can show how someone feels. Rather than telling us what a character thinks or feels, when characters act and speak, they become real to us.
- Dialogue gives necessary information. Every line of dialog should be there for a purpose. To advance the story line, to reveal and deepen a character. It conveys information in a lifelike way.
- Dialogue moves the plot along. Dialogue can reveal conflict and build tension. It can intensify the drama, build emotion, and further the plot.
HOW TO USE DIALOGUE
- Make it sound real. Think about the natural rhythm and pacing of speech. Write dialogue that sounds real to kids. Dialogue should sound the way children speak. Children don’t always speak in compete sentences. Vary the pattern.
- Listen to others to develop speech patterns. Watch television and movies. Eavesdrop on the conversations of kids.
- Listen to yourself out loud. Talk to your characters. Listen to them talk to one another.
- Show don’t tell. Dialogue is part of the action in any good story. It doesn’t tell the readers about the characters. It allows the characters to reveal who they are.
- Always keep your audience in mind. Consider the age and vocabulary of the children for whom you write. Your goal is to engage the child and keep them interested in what you write. Your dialogue should be age appropriate.
WAYS TO IMPROVE DIALOGUE
- Dialog Tags – stick to traditional “he said” and “she said”. Keep the tags simple. Children do not notice the repetition of “he said” and “she said”. But they often are distracted when we try to force colorful, fancy, and evocative tags. Avoid using words like “Giggled” for an entire bit of dialog. (Go ahead Guffaw and then try to say an entire sentence.) Don’t over-tag dialogue: “he retorted angrily,” “she snapped thoughtfully.” Especially avoid the overused adverbs – she said “sadly, loudly, forcibly, quickly, angrily…” When necessary use tags like “whispered” or “yelled” to heighten a scene or color the drama.
- Ground dialog in the scene – no “talking heads” with isolated unrelated speech. The conversation that advances the plot and develops your character takes place somewhere that is vital to your story. Where are they? Why? Who’s around? What’s happening? There doesn’t have to be action – but there has to be purpose – and your characters have to be physically located somewhere. Even if they are not in the same place – i.e. a telephone or online chat – the anchor character can be grounded.
- Don’t let one of the characters dish a long monologue filled with diatribe. A normal exchange in conversation is a one or two sentence give and take. An action, a response, etc. When your character has a long speech, break it up with another character asking for clarification, or interruption of some sort. Even if the other character response is nonverbal – frowning, sighing, groaning, etc. And if the plot calls for a long speech – break it into one or two sentences from the beginning and one or two from the ending – giving the gist – not a whole lengthy discourse.
- Realistic Doesn’t Mean Real – dialogue gives the impression of real speech, but again it is distracting to try to use a lot of “ums” and hesitations, repetitions etc. Use pauses of description to break – not “uhs”. Use stumbling and hesitations only when absolutely necessary to the scene.
- Give Your Characters distinct speech patterns – all of your characters have different personalities, and they are different ages, sex, etc. therefore they don’t sound the same. Think about their: Age: a 13-year-old will speak differently from a 70-year-oldGender: women and men may use different vocabularySocial background: does your char.acter use down-to-earth words or “classy” ones?Education level: does your character have an extensive or limited vocabulary?Geographical area: where do they live?Particular catch phrases: don’t go overboard here, but consider whether your character has any common phrases (things like “for sure!” or “good” or “awesome”). Beware of buzz words of a generation = i.e. groovy, (the 60’s). Slang can tell you where your character is from, the time frame your character is in – but it can become quickly outdated.Verbosity: some people tend to babble, others will be taciturn.
- Don’t Put Exposition in the Dialogue – every piece of information conveyed through dialogue needs to be a natural occurrence – don’t force it. If two people are discussing a topic that has to be revealed in a natural way that’s okay. I.E if two people are catching up one another’s lives.
- Use Silence as Well as Words – sometimes what is not said is just as important and revealing as the things that are said. A lot can be revealed about a character not responding to something that another character says. Is something wrong in their relationship? What’s going on?
- Get in Late, Leave Early – every piece of conversation doesn’t have to be heard – or written – for the reader to understand what is going on. In fact, getting in on the middle of a conversation can create intrigue. We don’t always need to see (or hear) the last word either. Unless it is vital to hear Hello” and “goodbye” to reveal or deepen character or plot – leave it out.
- Punctuate Your Dialogue Correctly – this is very important. Certainly if you submit to an agent, editor, or publisher. And most important to the reader. Dialog should: Begin on a new line for each new speaker. Have double or single quotation marks around the words. Have punctuation inside the quotation marks. End the dialogue line with a comma if adding a dialogue tag, but with a full stop if you’re adding an action. Most people use contractions when they speak.
- What’s In a Name – what do we call one another when we are speaking? We rarely call one another by name.
RESOURCES AND REFERENCE
“Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.” Alfred Hitchcock