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London Writers' Café Message Board The Writers' Toolbox › The Art of Dialogue (1)

The Art of Dialogue (1)

The Legendary F.
London, GB
Post #: 1,280
As usual don't forget these are guidelines and rules are made to be broken but remember as an unpublished author you are less likely to be understood (or forgiven) for breaking these rules.

There is so much to write on dialogue that I'm going to write this in several parts. The last part (if it works) will be a checklist to use when revising your ms. All feedback is welcome in the comments thread.

Obviously good dialogue is nothing like the way we talk in real life. Fictional dialogue has to follow a logic and stimulus and response play an important part in this. Which means that characters cannot be allowed to ramble on ignoring what the other person says (as is often the case in real life) unless it is the author's intention to portray the character as such. Even so, in such cases, it is best to have a light touch when doing this.

Stimulus and response is a bit like table tennis - a battle of wits and a struggle as to who comes out on top. It gives your dialogue a crispness which keeps the reader involved.

One fault in dialogue is speechifying which is not really a dialogue but a monologue or rant.

Sometimes authors use dialogue to impart background information. Best avoid this as it will come across as very obvious and intrusive. Some background information can be imparted but it has to be a logical development of the conversation.

Dialogue is most effective when it's one on one. More than two people in a dialogue can be distracting to the reader although like anything else there can be situations where this can work. It's a matter of judgement.

A main problem writing dialogue is how to keep it on track so that it doesn't ramble. One way around this is to set up the viewpoint character (the character that is the narrator) with a goal. What is a goal? Well, what does the viewpoint character want as a result of the conversation he is having with the other person? For instance if character A wants character B to lend him some money, then all of character A's talk will be about this and any attempt by character B to avoid the subject will be resisted by character A. This makes for lively dialogue and ensures that the dialogue does not get out of hand.

Sometimes it is tempting to write a character's way of speaking in colloquial terms, like spelling to indicate they are a Cockney and so on. This can be distracting to the reader although maybe at the beginning a few instances to signal to the reader the background of the character would be ok. However in most cases it's best to choose simple language and also best to avoid obscenities as they tend to turn many editors off. A few to indicate the character of the speaker won't go amiss though.

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