I love dialogue. Any kind of dialogue. My husband will testify to that on a personal level, but today we’re here to talk about dialogue within scenes and don’t need his opinion. :)
Please welcome author and scriptwriter Cindy Carroll back to RU for another great lecture.
Take it away, Cindy!
Sometimes the best part about a movie is the dialogue. But what about books? Most of the time you remember the description. You remember the characters. You don’t usually come away from reading a book thinking – Wow, that dialogue was awesome. So why not? Dialogue is tough to get right. Great dialogue is even tougher. Dialogue has a big job in a book.
Dialogue should serve one or more purpose: move the plot forward, develop character, illuminate the theme, take the story in a new direction, give the reader information. There are other purposes of course but those are the ones I aim for. It can also reveal how characters feel about each other, foreshadow events, provide conflict. And as long as you do it right, dialogue is showing.
How do you do it right? How much do you need? I would say every scene needs dialogue. Writing good dialogue is hard. People say some writers just have a talent for it. And that may be true but I think writing good dialogue can be learned. One tip writers are given is to listen to conversations around them. Good advice, just don’t write dialogue exactly as you would hear it in the real world. Real conversations are full of things that you don’t want in your dialogue. You wouldn’t include the ums, the ahs, the yeses, the nos, the person’s name etc.
For example: “Gee, Bob, remember the last time your cousin showed up? We all ended up in jail because Hank, the town Sheriff , had a grudge against him.”
Another example of bad dialogue:
“Betty, are you going to the wedding?”
Wouldn’t it better if Betty said something like “I’ll be washing my hair.” Or “I’d rather have a root canal without any freezing.” Her answer is still no but it reveals so much more about Betty and the story.
One more example:
“John, what are you doing?’
“Well, um, I’m, ah, nothing really. Just watching TV.”
Dialogue should be crisp. Clean. Serve at least one purpose not just to add word count. One thing I would highly recommend is watching movies. Listen to the dialogue. Listen to the subtext. Don’t have characters say something they wouldn’t normally say because you the author need to get the information out there. Try closing your eyes and just listen to the dialogue. How much of the story do you get? By the end of the movie do you know all the important parts? Do you know what happened? You’ll miss the visuals yes, movies are a visual medium, but do you get the gist of the story? Is the important information revealed in dialogue? Can you tell who is talking without seeing them? If you take the dialogue tags out of your manuscript do you know who is speaking? You should. Each character should have a unique voice. All of your characters shouldn’t sound the same.
I love subtext. The deeper meaning in the actions or the dialogue. Knowing what the person means without them having to actually say it. I saw a perfect example of subtext in X2 (X Men 2). Jean Grey tells Logan he’s a bad boy. Women don’t bring the bad boy home. They marry the good guy. Logan tells her he could be a good guy. This speaks volumes. He didn’t say straight out that he wanted to marry her. But he did tell her he wanted to marry her.
Why is dialogue so important? White space. It helps quicken the pace. A lot of readers don’t like lots of narrative. They look for those dialogue passages. There should be a good balance of dialogue and narrative in your story. I try to make sure I have at least some dialogue on every page. After all your characters need to talk to each other. Sometimes that’s the only way you can realistically get information across. Just remember to make sure it doesn’t sound forced.
Now get your characters talking.
RU Readers, do you have a favorite line of dialogue you would like to share? We’d love to hear it!
Thank you to Cindy for joining us today.
BIO:Cindy Carroll joined RWA in 1992 and started out writing novels but turned to scripts when an idea for one of her favorite television shows wouldn’t leave her alone. That first attempt, and her second teleplay for the same show, garnered her honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition in the screenplay category. She graduated from Hal Croasmun’s screenwriting ProSeries intensive in June of 2008. Her interview with David Rambo, writer/producer for CSI appeared in the summer special edition of The Rewrit, the newsletter for Scriptscene, Romance Writers of America’s screenwriting chapter. Currently working on the rewrite of her second feature, Cindy is also developing two new television pilots. www.CindyCarroll.com
Join us on Friday when author Zoe Winters tells us what she wishes she would have known before jumping into the self-publishing pool.
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- When Arguments Are a Good Thing: Conflict in Dialogue by K.M. Weiland
- Characterization Through Dialogue
- Story Is Story, Right? Novels Versus Scripts