Tuesday, August 10, 2010
So what exactly is dialogue?
Why dialogue, is a conversation between two or more people. Or just one person with himself, which would be internal dialogue. It is the main way of communication between your characters, and the life and blood of most novels.
How your characters communicate is what shows their personality and by extension it defines your characters. It does so much stronger than thoughts, and sometimes even stronger than actions (although actions do speak louder than words). This may not be obvious, I know it wasn’t to me. But it is.
Let’s see how. When you meet a new person, how do you judge them? Yes, appearance makes the first impression, but really it’s what they first say, and how they say it, that marks them in your head. And later, when first impressions pass, it is the person’s communication skills that make you want to spend time and be friends with them… or to get away from them ASAP.
It’s the same with your characters. Good dialogue makes readers want to spend more time with your book, whereas bad dialogue bores them. Having no dialogue is like having a mute friend, and having too much dialogue is like being around those people that never shut up (you know how annoying those are :P).
So we should try to balance. Of course exceptions exist (like people who always talk, and others just listen to them), but mostly you want to stick to the rules. What are the rules? Why you make your own. It is up to YOU as a writer to decide how much dialogue to include in each individual chapter, and what you say goes. For example, in the novel I am working on now (parts of which will be posted soon), I have one short chapter with no dialogue at all… unless you count internal.
So how do you write good dialogue?
In order to write good, believable dialogue, the most important thing is to know your characters. If you don’t know them, you can’t write from their perspective. Your dialogue has to be consistent and appropriate. What I mean, is that your characters should pretty much sound the same (without sudden personality changes), and what they say should be setting-appropriate. A separate post on consistency will come soon.
Now, here’s the tricky part. Although you want your characters to remain consistent, you also want the dialogue to be… unexpected. You want to make it unique each time. A good example that Dmytry has brought up to me before – the Joker in Dark Knight. He doesn’t talk like you would expect a person to talk, of course with the Joker its obvious why (he’s crazy), but that’s what makes him a good example. With most characters it’s less obvious, and analyzing their uniqueness would be a whole other post (Hmm. Perhaps I should suggest that to Dmytry).
Unique dialogue makes unique characters. Expected dialogue makes stereotypical characters. Unique characters are memorable, and that’s what you want in your book.
Always try to make the dialogue believable, and remember – what they say is what they are. Like I said, in life you judge people by their communication. Because of that, dialogue is a lot easier to relate to, than say internal thoughts. If you are writing in first person, or third-person limited than you don’t even have the option of internal thoughts, besides the point-of-view character. If you are writing in omniscient (which is my personal favorite), you have a bit more liberty. But even then, internal thought does not substitute dialogue. Nothing does. They can add to it, or make it stronger. That’s what you want to do.
I guess the purpose of this post is not to teach you how exactly to write dialogue (because let’s face it, there is no 1 right way), but rather to show you how to use it, as well as what to consider while writing it. Remember, dialogue is the face of your characters, and characters are the face of your book. Apply your talents, my fellow writers, and most importantly, enjoy writing.
Till next time,