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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thinkin' Thursday - Say What?

James Scott Bell wrote a great article on dialogue. His tips to effective dialogue should be in everyone's revision first-aid kit. They will strengthen the words, the tension & the characterization.

Rollin' on the River - Bell suggests getting the dialogue on paper first. Go back later to add tags, spruce it up & mine for diamonds. Allowing the argument, revelation, introspection to roll off the fingers without interruption can lead to interesting bits that may or may not make its way to the final submission. But these conversations will aide in story flow.

Get it on stage - Act out the dialogue - in private. This always makes me feel more goofy than usual. Even when I'm the only one home. Hey, the neighbors could be nosing around that day! Inflection, body language, intensity - all of these will emerge as you move through the conversations between characters.

That's SO Obvious - People do not speak in complete sentences, or logical flow. I am a huge fan of redirection; not intentional for confusion, it's just the way my brain works. Something like this...

"She didn't even wave? Wow. I thought she was nicer than that."
"Yeah, it's okay though. She probably didn't see me coming out of the bookstore. Wanna see what I bought?"

It's a bit convoluted, but I hope the point comes across. People's minds flit. Dialogue isn't concise. Cut the obvious, don't answer the rhetorical unless it's pertinent.

The Sound of Silence - We all know how it goes. We're writing along, the dialogue singing & singe-ing. Sometimes, it's what a character doesn't say. And, when they don't say it.

"Do you know why? I do. Tell me, go ahead, give it your best lie."
I stared at my father and refused to answer. I knew he would give me my reasons for disobeying him. And he would be wrong.

The point here is what the reader learns from the lack of response. Not saying anything can be just as, if not more powerful, than any dialogue that could be written.

Too many diamonds blind ya - Bell suggests one gemmy dialogue bit per quarter of the book. The real zinger that sticks long after the story is closed. Whether its Rhett Butler's parting shot to Scarlett, the Terminator's "I'll be back" which cannot be performed without Arnold inflection, or Oliver Twist's plaintive starved plea; these are sparse. Too many & the story degrades.

Confront the past - The use of dialogue as delivery system. Back story plagues us one & all; 30 pages, 50 pages, 100 pages. Whatever rule suits the writer, it's sometimes difficult to include that information without pulling the reader out of the tale. A confrontation between 2 characters can aid in delivering the past in micro-bites. These provide character motivation in a way that doesn't detract from the show.

Drop kick - This is a tricky technique. Drop a word here or there; which word, when, will it work? As we talk, so should we write. Different people require different information; your doctor doesn't care about the color of your hair dye. Your best friend will care about the doctor & the hair dye.

"Standard girl stuff."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, no biggie."
"Oh, you'll let me know though, right?"
"Yeah, are you gonna help me dye my hair or what?"

The banter adds a layer to the relationship between the two. The reader doesn't need to know, he/she may already know or it will be revealed later. Suffice to say, not spilling all the beans & kicking a few under the kitchen table adds authenticity to the exchange.

I am a dialogue heavy kind of gal. I'm much more comfortable writing it than I am description. And, I rely on it more so than any other technique. But, I still find myself leaving the reservation at times. When this happens, I pull these band-aids out of the kit & apply carefully. No mummified dialogue needed.

Que-y: How do you keep the dialogue moving? Do you use any or all of these techniques? Which do you find most beneficial?

Happy Writing,


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