23 March 2008

Snazzy Dialogue I: Catch-22

I was recently complimented on the dialogue in the opening chapter of my novel. I was stunned! Dialogue is a big deal for me. I fret over it all the time. But I'm apparently doing something right! So I thought I'd compile some of the things I keep in mind when writing dialogue.

"Hey bro. What's up?"
"Nothing really. You?"
"You know. More of the same."
"Yeah dude. I know."

Not terribly exciting, is it? But I bet you've had - or overheard - this very conversation, dozens of times. That doesn't mean you need to write it in your story.

Dialogue needs to be meaningful. It needs to be real. But it can't be real. Get my drift? I don't care how many times you scream "But I've heard dozens of people talk like that!" Just because people have long conversations about their bowel movements or their cousin's husband's predilection for online porn, doesn't mean your characters should.

Dialogue should tell us something about the character speaking it. It should illuminate the situation. It should create tension or assuage it, clarify a problem or confuse it, whatever the goal of the scene-at-large, the dialogue should work in tandem with the rest.

Throw in something unexpected. Have a character lie. Have them be painfully honest. Have them misunderstand what another character says and respond accordingly. Don't be boring!

Let's think about that and revisit the above conversation:

"Hey bro. What's up?"
"Cut the shit. How much you need to borrow this time?"
"Dude, a grand should cover me. Blackjack table got me this time."
"Yeah, more of the same."

See? At least now we know a little bit about what's going on. We can see distinct personalities int he speakers. There's connotation to the remark "more of the same."

Now get out there and write some great dialogue!

Read Part II here.