Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dialogue Lessons: The Big Picture, Part 7

Today concludes my three-week series of posts on "The Art of Writing Dialogue." I'll list the last two of the ten "rules of thumb" I include under The Big Picture section and give you a set of resources to use. I'd love to get some feedback from my blog readers, too, on whether or not you found this series of lessons to be useful and interesting or not, and if you have any suggestions for me. If you liked the series, I may present more lessons in the future from other writing workshops I've given. On to the Big Picture!

9. Function and Pacing: Dialogue has many functions other than the basic ones of conveying information to the reader and moving the plot forward. It can create tension and suspense, and it controls pace by speeding up or slowing down scenes. It should be very quick in action scenes.

     “He’s got a gun! Shoot him! Shoot him!” Tina shouted.
     “Get behind me. I’ll get him before he gets us.” Sweating profusely, Dave shoved her behind him. He yanked his gun out of his leg holster. He dropped it. “Shit, I dropped it.”
     “Pick it up, you clumsy idiot, or he’ll shoot first and we’ll both die.”

     “He’s got a gun!” Tina shouted.
     Sweating profusely, Dave shoved her behind him. He yanked his gun out of leg holster. He dropped it. “Shit.”
     “We’re gonna die.”

Dialogue develops characters and exposes motives, reveals setting (when they talk about the weather and the environs around them), establishes the scene’s mood, sprinkles in backstory and background information just where it’s needed rather than in big dumps at the beginning of the novel, and most importantly, intensifies conflict. Every piece of dialogue in your novel should accomplish as many of these goals as possible. Make every conversation work for you, and work hard, to earn the right to be included in the final manuscript.

10. Editing Prompts: Some helpful questions to ask while editing a section of dialogue:

Did my characters say exactly what they meant and exactly what I needed them to say?
Is each character’s dialogue in their unique voice?
Is each line of dialogue essential to the scene?
Does the dialogue move the plot forward?
Does the dialogue start a conflict or complicate an existing conflict?
Does the dialogue establish or increase the reader’s intimacy with the characters, and the characters’ with each other?
Does the dialogue convey emotion and is the emotion appropriate to the scene?
Is the body language of the characters attuned to what’s being said?
Most importantly, when I read it, am I bored or interested?


Beginnings, Middles and Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing), Nancy Kress
Writing Dialogue, Tom Chiarella
Write Great Fiction – Dialogue, Gloria Kempton
Speaking of Dialogue, Sammie L. Justesen
William Shunn’s “Proper Manuscript Formatting” website:

1 comment:

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Great post. Always good to be reminded of why dialogue is sooooo important!