So, picture the scene. I’d just finished the draft of my first book and was eagerly awaiting my partner’s – hopefully positive – feedback. However, upon reading it, her initial comment was not the “Oh my God, you are a literary genius” exclamation I had hoped for. Instead, she tilted her head to one side and said, “Hmmm…it’s great but the way the characters talk is all so…well, banal.” “Banal?! But that’s the way people talk.” I protested, clutching at my hair. On thinking about it further, I could see she had a point. Damn you dialogue, damn you! In short, the source of the problem was my confusing dialogue with conversation. Yes, who even knew there was a difference! Conversation is not dialogue – dialogue is dialogue and conversation is conversation.
Conversation is an exchange of information – it’s not dialogue. Apparently I’d missed out on that technique completely! Once I picked myself off the floor and dusted my ego down, I was ready to face the truth. My dialogue sucked – big time. My book was full of conversation. The way I had written my characters’ dialogue was so out of sync with how people spoke in real life. Why did I fall into this trap? Because I wanted to get the message across in a clear and precise manner (whilst boring the pants off the reader). I was scared to have my characters swear, say something rude, you know, all those things that comes naturally to some people.
That said, I feel it’s time to make a confession, after all it is allegedly good for the soul. Re-reading some of my earlier books, I have come to the conclusion that whilst I think my writing of dialogue has vastly improved with every book, there is always room for improvement. Writing believable dialogue in a characters’ voice is tough. Believe me when I say this. Maybe it’s a breeze for some writers, but not I. That’s why I set about focusing on this in my latest book Faking it, and to be honest, I feel putting the energy into this area has really helped. The dialogue in Faking It feels real – more illuminating. Whether you agree remains to be seen
So, diabolical dialogue, be gone. I am your mistress! As for other writers out there suffering from dialogue downers, here are some great tips I’ve picked up along my journey. I hope you find them useful.
– Read your dialogue out loud to yourself, better still, get someone to read it to you. If said person sounds awkward, stilted and like they’ve just learnt how to talk, it’s time to rethink your dialogue. – Use dialogue to move a story forward, dropping in hints of what’s in store for the characters in upcoming chapters. Don’t waste the readers time by having dialogue that serves no purpose – fiction isn’t real life.
– If you don’t want to characterise your character by description do it by dialogue. Instead of showing the reader your character is despondent, put the words in her mouth. E.g “Oh what’s the point of living anymore.”
– Let your characters interrupt each other. In real life, some people are constantly butting in, trying to get their point of view across, even if you haven’t finished speaking. Why should it be any different in fiction?
– Make your speeches short. I’d like to say that people in real life don’t talk in long sentences, but I happen to know a few who do. This is fine sitting face to face, but would I like to read the conversation, er no! So why punish your reader with it?
– Lastly, you know when you’re in a group setting and you ask someone a question, well there’s always someone there who will answer for them. Want to make it realistic? Make it happen in your dialogue just the way in would in any real life situation. Keep it real, people!
So there you go. Simple, right? I wish.
I hope these little pointers will banish the dialogue demons for any fellow writers out there. It’s a tough beast to master, but hopefully, we will get there…by book 97 perhaps!