If You’ve Got Nothing to Say

SONY DSCLet’s talk about dialogue. That good old he-said-she-said back and forth. The daily vocalisation of thought, feeling, need and want. We are the only creatures to vocalise in the way that we do. Animals use their bodies and sounds to express their feelings – anger and love and fear and curiosity. But we are the only animals to have names for those things.

And so it is that stories come about. Stories – those pictures drawn on cave walls, passed down through generations of words until someone puts some lines and dots on paper or wood or stone to make that story concrete and real.

Dialogue is essential to being human, and thus essential to being a storyteller. You can have good dialogue and bad dialogue, and even unsaid dialogue (a squint of the eye, a turn of the hand). But what makes GOOD dialogue?

The debates never end.

But one thing is for sure – if you don’t have GOOD dialogue, your story never really gets off the ground. It’s unreal and you lose the reader. Why should they read about characters that they don’t believe in when they can go out and have a real conversation?

Dialogue can be tricky to write. It’s not as simple as the idea of he said, and then she said, and then he said, and then she said again. There are nuances, accuracies.

I spend around half my time playing around with dialogue. Especially with my current WIP where dialogue is key to keeping the pace of the story. My characters tell so much through what they say (obviously) and what they don’t say. It’s in the nuances that the story takes hold, and for that I have to make sure my dialogue is accurate.

I read and read, and take note of the dialogue (The Great Gatsby: good. Twilight: bad) and try to understand what they have done and adapt my writing accordingly. I even read scripts and poetry to understand dialogue and language and how it all fits together. I sit in coffee shops and eavesdrop to understand how people speak and what they’re really trying to say. People-watching is one of my favourite past times, and people-listening is even better. There’s nothing quite like emulating a real conversation to understand people and make your characters as real.

You can have a dialogue that trails for pages or is simply three words. But it’s the realism involved that makes the difference – an “I love you” and an “I love you” can be so different with just a turn of phrase. Don’t ever underestimate the power of dialogue in your writing, and don’t ever underestimate the power of the words you give your characters. They speak the truth, because they can’t speak otherwise. Make your reader believe it.

And if they have nothing to say?

Then they don’t speak a word.

What do you do about writing dialogue?

What’s the best dialogue you’ve ever read/heard?

Photo Credit: Speech bubbles: Marc Wathieu on Flickr
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Filed under Writing, Writing Curves

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