Enhancing Dialogue

Dialogue becomes real when the character’s speak as real people do. We don’t talk in full sentence, and we don’t stand like sticks as we have conversations. Real people emote. Their voice tone and volume change. Their body and facial expression show the emotion and internal reaction to what’s being said. So action and body language are significant when bringing dialogue to life.

Writing real dialogue for fiction means:
• Cutting the chitchat. Start the dialogue when the important information is in the forefront. Skip the hellos and how-are-yous during face to face and telephone dialogue in fiction. Do not repeat the same information to another character. Once the reader has heard that conversation, use lines such as: He told her what he’d heard. Then you have no need to be repetitive and boring.

• Talk in partial sentences. Sometimes one or two words is all the character needs to respond with realism. Questions can be answered with another question or with evasion by segueing to a new topic. Use contractions. Real people do. Avoid stilted language, and don’t forget that silence adds tension to a novel. Real conversation falls into lulls. Silence gives a character time to think. Use it effectively.

• Recall lines in other novels or movies that have grabbed you. Who doesn’t know the last line of Gone with the Wind? “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Don’t steal the line, but rework it with your own take and create something fresh and new, or dissect the reaction that a line makes, and find your own dramatic line that readers will remember.

• Speak lines aloud. Become an actor in the privacy of your writing space and deliver the lines between two people, feeling the emotion and allowing your words to fly from you without thought. Speak with abandon. Record it if you can. Then put it on paper and see how real it becomes. Use a text to voice program so you can listen to your dialogue as well as the narrative.

Blending dialogue with narration:
Narration comes in a variety of forms from introspection (a character’s thoughts) to descriptions of setting and of action.

• Show character’s emotions and/or attitude by showing facial expression and body language. The “show and tell” element of fiction enhances a scene and helps create deeper POV by not using tags to distance the reader.

• Saying he was angry is weak. Instead bring it to life. His expression darkened as his jaw tensed and his eyes narrowed. Now you see the anger.

• Use gestures, motions, action beats to enhance realism. We’re not sticks and our face and body respond when we talk. Have your characters shift their feet, pace the room, fold clothes, twirl their hair, swing their arms, weave their fingers together, rest their chin on their fist. This is what real people do.

• When characters walk, give them a more defined action and use it to reflect their attitude and personality. She strutted across the room. That’s so much more vivid than saying walked. He moseyed toward her. You can see the casual, laid-back attitude. The child skipped into the room. You pick up an emotion here. Happy or excited. Don’t forget frustration, anger, disappointment. Let the character stomp or trudge.

• Personalities allow characters to respond in different ways. Some slam a door when irked. Others turn their backs and walk away. Some throw their hands over their faces and weep. Allow your characters to come to life by the emotion and action beats you use in your novel.

By keeping these ideas in mind, you can enhance your dialogue and make it more real.

7 Comments

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  1. Mike July 8, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    I’ve been told when writing telephone conversations not to include the other end of the conversation since it looks awkward. Maybe you disagree. But that being so how does one break up the main character’s words to allow space for the other person’s unheard reply?

  2. Martha Ramirez July 8, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Another great post!

  3. . July 8, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Mike you asked a great question I often wonder the same thing. I even wonder how to keep the conversation going sometimes. These are good poiints I’ve heard these a lot. Thanks Gail!

  4. Mike July 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    The author of this web-site http://creative-writing-course.thecraftywriter.com/ suggests breaking up the conversation with ellipses, where the other person speaks. What do you think?

  5. Gail Gaymer Martin July 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi Mike – and female anonymous. : )

    Great question and I’ll give a brief answer here but I’d like to write a longer answer for the blog. I’m sure it’s a problem others run into.

    Telephone conversatoins are only used to impart new information so once the information is finished, don’t drag on the call just end it with a line such as: When the conversation ended, she caved into a chair trying to decide what to do.

    If the conversation is with a main characters who have a POV, I use both parts of the conversation.

    If the call is incidental but important to the main character, I usually give a one side conversation, and let the reader in on what’s been said through the main characters’ thoughts and actions.

    She gripped the phone, listening to her sister’s ranting. What was she supposed to do about her brother-in-laws unfaithfulness. She’d always been supportive.

    Here I show an action — gripping the phone and then a hint anout what’s being said.

    Hope that helps. I’ll be more explicit with the blog and I’ll do it for next weeek.

    Gail

  6. research paper September 27, 2011 at 5:59 am #

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  7. resume November 1, 2011 at 7:09 am #

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