Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dialogue--Make it Matter

In REVISION & SELF-EDITING (a must-have in a writer's library, IMHO), James Scott Bell shares this secret: "Dialogue is the fastest way to improve your fiction." He reminds us that dialogue must be intentional, and we need to know why we're writing it. Here are Bell's 8 essentials for good dialogue:
  1. It is essential to the story. It must advance the plot, reveal character, and reflect theme.
  2. It comes from one character to another character. Fictional dialogue must not be seen as an attempt to dump information.
  3. It has conflict or tension. Bell repeats Hitchcock's principle that great dialogue has the dull parts taken out.
  4. It sounds just right for the piece. Dialogue should keep readers in the story instead of pulling them out.
  5. It sounds just right for each character. Consider vocabulary, favorite words and expressions, regionalisms, dialect, and syntax.
  6. It isn't real life speech. Fictional dialogue must have the suggestion of real speech, but every word is purposeful (careful with um and uh).
  7. It is compressed. Bells suggests that unless a character has a strong reason to run off at the mouth, strive for crispness in word choice.
  8. It is rich with subtext. Bell states that "In great dialogue, what is unsaid is as important as what is spoken out loud."
Bell reminds us that dialogue in fiction is another form of character action, where the people we create try to further their agendas.

Let's talk. What's your opinion of these essentials, and do you have any dialogue tips you can share?

45 comments:

  1. I don't think any of those were "secrets" so much as common sense.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post, Julie. The advice is spot on. I would add just one more point, the dialogue has to sound authentic, you can't have a doctor talking like a rockstar, or a teacher using swear words. It has to reflect the character.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. and what if the teacher does swear? Or the doctor lives like a rockstar? Don't stereotype.

      Delete
  3. Great post, Julie! When I first started writing, all my characters talked like me. It took me a while to figure out that they all have their own unique voices. :) Off to retweet this!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post Julie. I find it really hard to stay in view point of the main character when everything he says is in rhyme.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I would have to say that reading dialogue aloud helps me, even if only to determine whether or not it sounds "right". Good post.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post. I love the tip about what is unsaid is just as important as what is said.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I enjoy dialogue. If done well, it moves the story along and develops the characters too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, yes I agree with these, especially #1. I've read books with dialogue that really didn't need to be there; it didn't do anything for the story or the characters. I guess when that happens it means the editor must've gotten tired and gone home then forgot to go through it again, haha.

    ReplyDelete
  9. These are excellent points!! Great post, Julie!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh dear, I've so often seen writers use dialogue for information dumps. It sounds so forced and artificial.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'd say these essentials are spot on! This is excellent advice that we all need to follow.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sounds great. I try and have the dialogue both move the story forward and reveal character conflict and development. Not always easy.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I LOVES this book. Totally agree with you about being an MUST-HAVE in a writer's library.

    ReplyDelete
  14. These are some great tips, especially since I struggle with dialogue. I can do it, I have to write it, but it isn't my favorite part of the writing process!

    ReplyDelete
  15. It's nice to see the guidelines laid out so crisply. My first crack at dialogue usually comes out as a real life person would actually say it, but then it's cleaned up so a real life reader can read it without getting irritated!

    Hey, love the daisies. :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Good advice. It's amazing how many people are not aware of how to write dialogue correctly.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This is a great post it made me think about why and how our characters speak and the psychology behind that. Interesting I need to go ponder...

    ReplyDelete
  18. Really great advice! Thanks for this post.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you for a great concise checklist. I love writing dialogue, it adds yet another dimension to the character.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I need that book! This is one of my struggles.

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a great checklist! It even caused me to reread my wip to see if the dialogue helped to advance the plot!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I love writing dialogue! It's my favourite way for my characters to let themselves be known! Love the point about the subtext - hadn't thought as much about that one! Thanks for the list! :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. All very good points. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I think it helps to be reminded of such things. We may already know the essentials, but we may forgot when actually writing dialogue. Thanks for the reminder!

    ReplyDelete
  25. All good tips. I love writing dialogue, and sometimes have to force myself to end the conversations. I think hearing the characters speak can be just plain fun, too. A lot of great one-liners are born in the dialogue of fabulous books.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Excellent tips. Thank you for this. I really enjoy writing dialogue. And reading truly authentic and well written dialogue is such a pleasure. It really makes the characters come alive.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Read it out loud! That helps me every time with making sure it's flowing right. I love using dialogue, and love reading dialogue-heavy books--when it's done right. It's the best way to really know the characters~ :o) <3

    ReplyDelete
  28. These are definitely great essential tips for dialogue! #2 is important in that while dialogue CAN impart information, it can't be a dump, or an obvious method to get info across to the reader--especially if it's something the characters already know, and they're only saying it to be informative. ;o) I have to be careful of this in my own writing. Working on it...!

    ReplyDelete
  29. These are really great tips. I love James Scott Bell. I must read his book! I think I'll pick it up between finishing my first draft and revising. :)

    In terms of my own tips, I agree with reading out loud. It's helpful to hear it to make sure it sounds natural.

    ReplyDelete
  30. What fantastic advice! I think #6 was a real lesson for me when I worked it out.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I love that book! And I appreciate you breaking down a mini-review of dialogue from it. I try to review key fiction techniques on a regular basis!

    ReplyDelete
  32. I think it's important to not have all your characters sound the same. Each character needs their own voice.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Great points… and I love the advice from your commenter’s.
    Dialog must be personal to each character… you should get a sense of who that person is by the way he/she talks.

    Reading harry potter is a perfect example of “true dialog” and how to make each character come to life by: emotion, words used, and the overall construction of the dialog for each unique character.

    I hate reading a book when all the characters sound the same, it really makes it hard to visualize, and connect to them individually.

    Great post…

    ReplyDelete
  34. Really important post. I used to info-dump in dialogue all the time. "As you know, Bob..." stuff. And I'd put in every um, er, and ah. Dialogue is so much harder than new writers think. And most of us put in too much.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Precisely.

    Just leave it to Bell. :)

    ReplyDelete
  36. I own his book on Plot and Structure, and it's excellent. I'll look for this one, too!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Nice reminder: every chararcter has a unique voice, cussing and cursing included. :) Thanks for that.

    ReplyDelete
  38. All of Bell's tips are great things to keep in mind when writing dialogue. I also think dialogue can be an opportunity to interject humor -- if appropriate for the character and scene.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I love this post. I'm going to keep a link to it somewhere so I can refer back to it! Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  40. For me, I need to learn to keep sentences short during the action scenes, then let them be longer during character development. There is a time and place for everything and pace often dictates how and when.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I'm a big fan of dialogue. I like reading it and writing it. Last year, I took a workshop on dialogue, and realized how much more I could do with it.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Thank you ! Some great tips here
    xx

    ReplyDelete
  43. great post again Julie....I think I use dialogue to keep a story going when I get stuck but these are great tips....by the way..started LongRidge and the books and course are great. ☺ Hope you're weekend is the best.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

    Obat Penyumbatan Pembuluh Darah
    Obat Gangguan Fungsi Ginjal Pada Pria Dan Wanita
    Obat Pencegah Paru-Paru Basah
    Obat Gangguan Fungsi Hati
    Obat Migrain Alami Herbal

    ReplyDelete