Annie On Writing

June 18, 2009

Dialogue is a dance

I put my thoughts together on Write Anything about dialogue…..

Dialogue for some writers is a painful left footed affair, clumsy and ungraceful. For others, it floats off their page, entrancing the reader with its simplicity, beauty and seemingly natural delivery. Crafting authentic dialogue is a dance between the characters and the writer.

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.
Dialogue – as dynamic as a dance

Dialogue serves several purposes.  It fleshes out characters  and gives the reader  a break from straight exposition.  It aught to move the story forwards, be a tool for exposing information to the reader, forshadow events which are about to happen, making these events even more vivid when the do arrive,  and contribute to characterization and the relationships within the story.

However – the way real people speak will bore even the most avid reader as its full of interruptions, filler words and pauses.  Normal speech goes off into tangents – so crafted speech should seem real to the reader, but it shouldn’t have all the umms, errs and false starts of real speech patterns.

Writing authentic dialogue will require practice and observation on normal conversations. While you are ‘researching’  (eavesdropping) develop a sense of the natural rhythms of speech around you and expand your memory for phrases utilizes by sub-cultures and different age groups. It unlikely – though not impossible –  that a middle aged accountant will use words such as ‘dude’ or ‘bitchin’, or that a 8 year old will string long complex sentences populated with 3 syllable words – unless the story requires that specific characterization.

Dialogue needs to have purpose within your story and as a writer you will need to be mindful of its use within genres.  Science fiction stories tend use dialogue as an information dump and romance tends to rely on dialogue to convey characters feelings. By being diligent and utilizing other mediums to express this information, you will end up with a stronger, more compelling story.  Incorporate facial cues and body language as its more powerful than a shout or argument. The weather and environment is a potent mirror to the inner emotions of your character.

Care needs to be taken not to treat the reader like an idiot. When formatting your dialogue adding an adverb to the word “said” doesn’t accomplish much, in fact it can be ineffective and detract from the flow of your story. Its best to  write the dialogue so the reader can imagine the character’s tone of voice and state of mind from the visual cues, environment and the context of the story rather than writing that they had said it ‘angrily’, or ‘sadly’.

Dialogue conveys meaning and adds colour and depth to your characters within the story. However, when you let yourself write authentic dialogue, you’ll discover the thrill of delivering your character’s true voice to the reader.


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