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The Power of Dialogue

Writing realistic dialogue doesn’t come easy for me.  I think I make it more difficult by stressing over making it too real.  We all use dialogue to communicate and learned this valuable skill at a very young age.  It’s all around us.  Family members, friends, television, radio, that annoying teller at the bank or friendly cashier at the grocery store.

 So why is it so hard for me to write it?  I find myself arguing with my characters.  I’ll write something and then when I go back to read over it, my character shakes his head and tells me I’m so off base and there is no way he’d ever say those words.  Yep, it’s my male characters I struggle with most and here is why. 

 When writing suspense it’s extremely hard to have your villain say “What the heck?” “You little stinker”  or “Oh, bull hockey.”  Okay, I admit I’ve been know to curse with the best of them, but for some reason I am hesitant about having a character use such language.  I think it has to do with my kids.  The idea they might read the story one day and then look at me and say, “Mom! You said that was a bad word,” haunts me and my muse.

I must bit the bullet, so to speak, and start listening to my characters.  Yes, my hunky hero, you’ve been right along.  The mood of my story is dark and dangerous therefore the dialogue needs to match in order for me to pull in the readers and keep them interested.

 Dialogue is a powerful tool when done right.  Good dialogue lures the reader into the world you’re creating and helps move the plot along.  Jarring words or even the wrong word can knock the reader out of the story.  We all know that distracting a reader is a huge mistake, one we must avoid at all cost.  What we want is to keep them turning those pages and begging for more.

 I’ve just started reading Gloria Kempton’s book on Dialogue.  It’s got great techniques and exercises on how to craft effective dialogue.   Right now I’m working on making sure my dialogue sets the right mood for the story.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got the tension and suspense down.   And I’m really looking forward to the first exercise.  Take a notebook and go to the mall or a park or a café and eavesdrop on a conversation.  Now I have permission to eavesdrop.  I feel so sneaky. LOL

 How do you craft believable dialogue for your characters?  Have you ever actually sat and taken notes on someone else’s conversation?  🙂

***Don’t forget to check back next Monday the 31st!   Betsy St. Amant will be our guest and I’ll be giving away copies of her books!!  All you have to do is leave a comment for your chance to win!


8 Responses

  1. Hey there,

    Well, first of all I like the way you write. I read the entire post and when you consider I have a touch of ADD, that is pretty good.

    I might have had trouble with my female characters in my book, but I work with twelve women so I just tried to speak like them. And too my Mama was an English teacher, so when in doubt I wrote like she talked.

    I do worry about my male characters though. Some of them cussed and I dread when mom reads those parts. I think I’m gonna say the editor made me do it.

    Dr. B

  2. I actually think I write pretty realistic dialogue. I feel like it’s my strong suit. Don’t really know why.

    As to the cursing, well, I agree with your hero. Dialogue has to be in character. But there are some nasty villians who might feel it below them to use a potty word but still cut someone’s tongue out. All in how you write your character, I suppose.

    But my books have bad words and sex …and I have young kids. I’ll explain it this way. Mom is a writer and just like an actor or actress portrays a character, I create characters that are flawed and do things not so great sometimes. Doesn’t mean I condone it, anymore than that actress really is a drunk prostitute. Wait. I don’t think my boys know what a prostitute is. LOL.

  3. Dr. B., thanks for stopping by. 🙂 I think I have a touch of ADD as well. At least that’s what I’m hoping all this chaos is caused by. LOL “The editor made me do it.” LOVE it!!!

    And working with twelve women! Man, I’d like to be a fly on the wall. That must create interesting dialogue and research for your books on a daily basis. LOL

  4. You are a people person, Liz. 🙂 I think that has alot to do with it. I’m such an introvert and have to work hard on coming out of my shell. That’s why the eavesdropping is so appealing. I can just sit and listen. Don’t have to talk back. LOL

    Your take on this makes alot of sense. Never thought about it like that. But I think I’ll skip the drunk prositute part too when relaying this back to my kids. LOL

  5. Yes, I’m an eavesdropper, too — sometimes totally unwillingly (how CAN some people carry on the cell conversations they do? Don’t they notice the world around them?), but sometimes to pick up rhythms.

    Dialog hasn’t been a problem for me. Maybe because I talk too much as a person! The swearing is interesting. Although I don’t swear personally except in situations of extreme stress — when only “Crap!” seems to fit the bill, and only when I’m alone — I find blasphemy comes easy in dialog. Have no idea why. Maybe an effect of reading? Or listening to my adult children when they don’t realize I am? Which raises the interesting question of when did they learn to talk like that . . .

  6. I’ve heard a few of those as well, Beppie! LOL Those conversations are hilareous not to mention a bit scary at times! True life really is stranger than fiction. 🙂

    Stress brings out the worst in all of us, doesn’t it? When those words start flying, my hubby knows what kind of day I’ve had. LOL

  7. One of my favorite lessons on writing dialogue is in a book by Patrick McManus called “The Deer on a Bicycle”. Actually, that book is one of my favorites on every phase of writing, but especially on humor. You can check him out at http://www.patrickfmcmanus.com.

  8. Thanks, Kari Lynn! I need all the help I can get. 🙂

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