Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are You Talking To Me?

Ever given up on reading a novel because you didn’t like it but didn’t quite know why?
Was the pacing slow, the characters flat? Or maybe the dialogue didn’t sound real enough.

My work’s been rejected for lots of reasons, but I’m happy to say I’ve never got negative feedback about my dialogue. I’d say that dialogue is probably what I do best. For me, what separates an okay book from a great one is natural sounding dialogue. If you keep getting feedback about poor dialogue, here are some tricks that have helped me.

Become An Eves Dropper
My background in psychology has given me a natural curiosity about listening in on people’s conversations. (Okay, I’m nosey too). But being nosey is an essential trait if you want to be a writer. Listening in not only garners ideas, but it lets you hear how real people talk and interact with one another. And what better way to create a great book than offering readers real characters that live on long after they’ve read the final page. My rule for dialogue, people shouldn’t only be reading what your characters are saying, they should be experiencing too.

Eves drop in the line at the supermarket, in the coffee shop…even next time you ride on a bus or a plane. Close your eyes and listen to how people speak. What type of words do they use? Do they use slang? Words or terms you haven’t heard before? And yes, it’s okay to write down snippets of conversations to use in future work.

Read Screenplays
When you watch a movie it’s hard to believe it was created from a script that was mostly dialogue. If you want to get a feel for top notch dialogue, buy a screenplay (try and read through it. Even read it aloud with a couple of people playing various parts. Listen to the rhythm and how characters respond to one another.

Read the Good, The Bad and The Ugly
No, not the screenplay but if you want to create great dialogue you have to read both good and bad so you know the difference. So try this.
Pick a book, read through it until you get to a good chunk of all dialogue.

Did you like it?
What did you learn from it?
How did it add to the plot?
What did it reveal about the character who was talking?
What if you didn’t like it?
What was wrong with it?
Rewrite it yourself and see if you can improve upon it.

One of my favorite mystery writers is Peter Robinson. If you ever get a chance, pick up one of his books and study the dialogue. Even if Robinson didn’t write great mysteries, I’d read his books just for their natural sounding dialogue.

The Two Rules
Okay, I can’t close this blog without mentioning the two rules of great dialogue. Remember them and you’re 50% of the way to creating sparking dialogue. One, dialogue should further the plot. Two, dialogue should reveal something about the character who’s talking or one of the other characters in your novel. If you can achieve both with one piece of dialogue, you’re on a roll.
Next time you sit down to write, spend a few minutes going over the dialogue you’ve already created. Read it aloud, does it follow the two rules? If not, toss it out or rework it.

Susan Palmquist is the author of A Sterling Affair, a paranormal romance published by The Wild Rose Press. Death Likes Me and The One and Only both published by Hearts on Fire Books. And the upcoming paranormal romance, Sleeping with Fairies that will be published by Lyrical Press.
She also writes a monthly interview blog with writers and editors at Between the Lines.


Free Blogger Templates by Isnaini Dot Com . Powered by Blogger and PDF Ebooks