* dialogue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Constable Lowther speaks in a heavy dialect, which is difficult to understand. The only reason this works is that he is a minor character, so you can struggle through.
  • If Pitt spoke that way, it would be a good reason to put the novel down.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • A character’s dialogue illustrates opinions, personality, education, economic background, attitudes, beliefs, superstitions, pathology
  • Wield dialogue as a way of banishing doubt from the reader’s mind
  • Dialogue can foreshadow events that will not take place until well into the story
  • relationships take on life through dialogue
  • natural speech isn’t fluid. Writing like that would be virtually unreadable
  • Dialogue needs to seem natural even when it can’t be
  • syntax reveals character: pedantic speech, casual speech, uneducated speech
  • a character may have a signature word (or expression)
  • each character has a distinctive way of using language
  • dialogue needs to be concise
  • dialogue should never be obviously expository
  • dialogue is not supposed to be the way people talk all the time
  • dialogue can reveal subtext – what the characters are really talking about beneath what they appear to be talking about
  • to offset the direct nature of dialogue with minimal (or no) subtext (St. James and Deborah often speak directly, trusting each other), which would become repetitive and tedious, you need to have other scenes in which the dialogue is rich with subtext (Lynley and Helen rarely speak directly and often speak at cross purposes)
  • a lot is going on, and much of it is not expressed
  • subtext colors the scene. People don’t always say what they really mean. They don’t always state their thoughts and feelings directly. Sometimes they talk around a topic
  • fancy tag lines such as snarl, moan, whine, growl (instead of said, asked, answered, replied) call attention to themselves. EG discourages using them at all. The reader will know if someone is snarling without obvious words to say so
  • Adverbs can add a degree of precision, but draw reader’s attention to how the line is said rather than what is said
  • Junk words. Use them only if they illustrate character. Otherwise delete.
  • Suggest dialect rather than using full dialect. The reader will get it.
  • In a long speech, maintain attention by showing other characters’ reactions, gestures.
  • Interrupt the speech with a moment of thematically related action – sound of voices, wind against the windowpane, song on the radio in car which passes by.
  • Intersperse some physical thing into the stream of dialogue (may reveal character, contain important information, be a metaphor)
  • Indirect dialogue is a summarized form of dialogue, told in narrative style, which alters the pacing of the scene, compresses the dialogue while still allowing the reader to know that it was lengthy.
  • after writing dialogue, evaluate it. Does it add tension? Demonstrate conflict between characters? Reveal some aspect of the character speaking or listening?
  • Would some of the dialogue be more effective as indirect rather than direct?
  • If the dialogue isn’t essential, get rid of it!



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