Last Monday, I shared what dialogue in a story should accomplish and common problems with dialogue. This week, I’ve gone through my class notes to compile a short list of what makes dialogue “great.”
- Use metaphorical exaggeration (ex.: “mosquito bigger than my dog”)
- Use lists for dramatic effect to show character frustration (ex.: “I changed my hairstyle, lost ten pounds, bought a new dress, and dropped half my paycheck at the Clinique counter, but he still doesn’t notice me.”)
- Push-button dialogue that causes an emotional reaction (a famous example: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”)
- Reversals (ex.: “I don’t think they’ll notice it’s missing. Do you?” “Yes.” “I think you’re right.”)
- Understatement (ex.: Noah looked down from the ark and said, “Looks like we got a little rain.”)
- Yes/No alternatives (ex.: “Did you go to the party last night?” “I never pass up free food.”)
Of course, this is easier said than done. An essential part of the dialogue rests in the narrative voice. A suggestion provided in class to capture the voice of the author and character was to write fast. This means write the story and resist the editing process until the story has been told. Editing as you go can edit the voice right out of the story, making it just a bunch of words on the page that don’t make the reader feel the story.
For my previous post, I wrote a sample scene to illustrate dialogue problems. Unfortunately, I cannot write a passage to display “great” dialogue. I know my limitations 🙂
I still felt like this post needed something, so I chose a portion of what I thought was half-way decent dialogue near the end of Kharma’s Way (a serial story that I posted last year) to share:
“She had a purse? And you remember what it looked like? Women are strange,” Rodney said, shaking his head.
“I think you were distracted by other parts of her body.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I turned back to the mesquite tree and gasped. “It’s gone!”
“The coyote. It was behind that mesquite tree.” I pointed to the tree. Where I observed the cluster of cacti before, mounds of lantana grew, spreading a leafy yellow carpet across the ground.
“I never saw a coyote,” Rodney said.
“I think I’m going crazy.”
“I didn’t want to be the one to tell you.”
“It’s not funny!” The fear and frustration broke free like a flash flood in a dry creek bed – without warning and torrential.
Rodney patted my shoulder. “I don’t know why the coyote is a big deal, but it’ll be okay.”
For a minute, maybe longer, my emotions flowed. Then they tapered to a trickle, down my drenched face. I didn’t have a tissue, so I stretched my T-shirt to erase the tears from my cheeks.
“You wouldn’t understand. Sarena warned me I was going to die today.”
“That’s ridiculous. How would she know?”
So, there you have it; everything I’ve got about writing dialogue. Do you have any other tips for writing “GREAT” dialogue? If so, please share!