Wr.Tu.Th.: Dialogue

It’s time for this week’s writing tutorial. Let’s talk. Literally! This week it’s all about…dialogue.

 Writing Tutorial: Writing Good Dialogue

Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.

INTRODUCTION:

One of the biggest problems I notice people have, or that I’ve been asked about, is regarding dialogue. I figured I’d send some tips out into the web-o-sphere to help with you on your journey to writing convincing dialogue.

Every kind of story—whether it is a play, TV show or novel—is bound to include some sort of dialogue. It’s what gives your characters life, propels a lot of your plot along, and shapes many of your scenes

1) Observe the interactions between people. Watch a television show, play (or be sneaky and people-watch at a café), and pay attention to their conversations. How long/short are their sentences? What tone do they use? What about their vocabulary? What is their body language like? Facial expressions?

You may not realize it until you start paying attention, but how someone converses is a big reflection of their personality. This is why dialogue becomes so important in writing; it is where a lot of your characters’ development can come from.

2) Be mindful of your characters. You know all about your characters—their age, ethnicity, history, quirks, likes, dislikes, etc.—but it’s no good for them to stay in your head. Now you must bring them to life for your readers. The information you know about your characters is vital in making them talk.

For example, if you’re main character is a 28 year-old man from Louisiana, you better not give him a Boston accent or let him fling “like” and “o-m-g!” around like a teenager.

3) When using dialogue, don’t use it to explain something obvious. If you need to use dialogue to further explain things to your readers, then you should probably consider revising. For example, if your character is an astronaut on a solo mission, you don’t need him/her telling the onboard computer that they are on a solo mission. That’d just be…weird.

4) Act it out. When inserting dialogue, play the role of your character. By reading out loud, you will discover the various speech patterns and gestures that accompany dialogue. It will become easier to then include these attributions, as well.

5) Be real, yo. Similar to the above, be sure your dialogue mimics real-life situations. In reality, you might respond to someone’s comments with a question, so make your character do so, too. Include questions, interruptions, sarcastic comments, etc. to make the interaction seem more realistic.

6) Be judicious with the attributions. “Said” and “Asked” are probably the most well-known attributions, but they can come with a price. If you put “he said” after every sentence your character speaks, it will get hella annoying to read. Remember that attributions should only be used to remind the reader who is talking.

6a) Similarly, be creative with attributions. You don’t have to just say “said” and “asked” all the time. If your character grumbled a phrase, say that!

7) Don’t forget about actions. We don’t just stand still while we’re talking, so don’t expect your characters to, either. Make them pause once in a while, shift their weight to the opposite foot, roll their eyes, furrow their brow, etc. If they cough, say they cough. If they scratch their head, say that, too.

The biggest tip I can give for learning to write good dialogue is to look at other peoples’ work, other books, movies, television shows, plays, and real-life situations. The more you read and observe, the more you’ll be in-tune to how dialogue should “sound.”

Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know.

And don’t forget: practice, practice, practice!

Happy writing!

Wr.Tu.Th: Character Development

It’s Writing Tutorial Thursday. Today we’re talking about creating really awesome characters.

Writing Tutorial: Character Development

Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.

INTRODUCTION:

What keeps us coming back to a story? It’s probably not the creepy house in chapter three (even though it was a damn good description). It’s the characters. Your story wouldn’t be anything unless there was a protagonist to relate to, root for (sometimes against), commiserate with, and follow.

So what makes a good character? How do you make one “come alive?” Well, I’m here to help answer those questions.

1) Know your characters. This doesn’t just mean what they look like. You should have detailed back stories for your characters—even the minor players. Make sure they’re well-developed. Yes, describe that they’ve got hair the color of cornstalks waving in the fall sunlight, but also describe who they are as a person. What are their dreams? Beliefs? Likes? Dislikes? Family history? Quirks? Eccentricities? Mannerisms? Think about who you are. How would you describe yourself or someone you know? That’s how you should be describing your characters.

Note: Don’t forget about your secondary characters. Giving life to many “background characters” is just as important. They might not need as detailed of a back story as your protagonist’s, but their existence needs to be just as believable.

2) Don’t pile it on. Think about character development like a five course meal. You wouldn’t want to eat all courses within the first ten minutes. That’d be crazy. Similarly, you don’t want to bombard your readers with every detail about your character in the first chapter (or paragraph).

Instead, pepper (get it? I’m continuing the food metaphor.) details about your characters throughout your story. Perhaps in the first paragraph you open with basic physical features, but it is not until chapter two that you reveal what your main character does for a living.

You may even choose to point out details as they pertain to the plot. For instance, maybe your story is centered on familial betrayal, and it isn’t until chapter ten that you let your readers know how many secrets your main character keeps from her family!

3) Make your readers care. It’s one thing to make your characters sound out-of-this-world attractive; it’s an entirely other thing to make them relatable to your readers. Ask yourself the question: “Why should my reader care about my character?” What’s your character’s objective? How do they get to that goal/point?

That’s usually where conflict comes in. (After all, if your story hasn’t any sort of action, it’s about as interesting as a used piece of gum.) How do your characters face internal and external conflict? You need to show how they overcome struggles and challenges. This is important in not only helping your characters to grow, but also in furthering your plot.

4) Remember dialogue. I love writing dialogue, so of course I’d put it on the list. But it’s true that it’s also very helpful in character development. How does your character talk? What does he/she sound like? Practice writing out things they would say. Do they have an accent? Do they have poor grammar?

(For more about writing convincing dialogue, stay tuned for next week’s tutorial!)

5) Pay attention. The best advice I can offer is to think about a favorite character from a favorite book. Why do you like that character so much? Is it because of his/her personality? Pay close attention to how the author presented him/her. Read, read, read. Take notes.

Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know!

And don’t forget: practice!

Happy writing!