Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Listen to the Voice of an Expert


I may be an author, but I’m still too new in this game to provide certified writing tips. Movie tips YES, writing tips NO. So, I brought in an expert!

Clarissa Draper posts the most sensible, easy to follow, and enlightening writing tips on her blog – Listen to the Voices. (She’s also providing first chapter critiques for those who are interested.) I asked if she would be so kind as to provide some writing tips for my fellow bloggers and writers, and she agreed without forcing me to grovel or beg. (Thanks, Clarissa – it’s not a pretty sight!) Enjoy!

5 Keys to Realistic Dialogue

I used to be horrible at dialogue. Then somebody told me I should write a chapter of dialogue to practice. So I did. Not only that, I wrote a whole book. Dialogue only. And it's one of the best stories I've ever written.

Dialogue alone can make you cry, laugh, think, and throw your book against the wall. Dialogue is moving and well written dialogue is powerful. I doubt you want to write a whole novel in dialogue just to practice. So instead, why don't I just tell you what I've learned.

1. It should always move the story forward.
2. It should make sense to the reader - ever jump into a conversation and have no idea what they're talking about? Yeah, I don't like it either. So, don't do that to your reader.
3. It should end. Who wants to read an hour's worth of conversation?
4. It should tell us more about the character - dialogue is a great place to glean insights as to a character's voice and characteristics.
5. It should be interesting and meaningful - this means you should keep backstory out of your dialogue unless it's vital to the plot and moves the story forward. Also, keep your opinions out of it. Just because you're vegetarian doesn't mean all your characters are and that they want to make a point about it in every conversation.

No one wants to read this:

"Hi, Jane, what are you carrying?"

"Hello, Martha, I went to Johnson's grocery story on Fourth Street, near your house, and bought groceries. You know the place... your brother got shot in that store with a revolver five years ago, during a robbery. Remember?"

"Oh yes I remember, I went into a deep depression and had to be hospitalized for three years. They preformed shock therapy, did you know? I never thought I would make it out alive. I petitioned to the government to stop such treatment for a year and had no response."

"I helped you with that. We worked long hours, late at night to prepare signs and petitions. I hate the Republicans, they are a bunch of crooks. In 1964, the started a war that I felt never needed to be fought."

Thanks, Clarissa! Everyone please visit her site, Listen to the Voices.

And I am visiting Jeffrey Beesler’s World of the Scribe on Thursday and sharing about my writer's doubts. Stop by and snark at my insecurities...

60 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

Great advice! Thanks Alex and Clarissa. Looking forward to your post tomorrow, heading over to follow now so I don't forget.

Old Kitty said...

"No one wants to read this" and I go and read them anyway! LOL!

Thanks for the wise words and advice, Clarissa! And thanks Alex J Cavanaugh for posting it here.

I'm looking forward to er.. snark (whatever that is!!! Sounds rude!) tomorrow over at World of Scribe!

Take care
x

Ellie said...

Thank you, I see dialogue as insight into our characters. The tone, mood, the pace...but actually writing it, scary stuff! Great post
Alex and Clarissa. I enjoyed your tips and will visit your blog~

I suspect when in doubt, sit in a coffee shop and listen. (Going to go there today) ;-D

Christine Danek said...

Thanks Alex and Clarissa. Great tips. I will check out her website. I love writing dialogue and these tips help.
Thanks.

Journaling Woman said...

Thanks Alex, I love to read Clarissa.

Clarissa, Love this and am keeping this for reference. Also, I am now going to write a short story with only dialogue. That will so much fun...or so I think. ;)

Teresa

Helen Ginger said...

Good advice. I think dialogue can be a way that the character reveals himself, sometimes even more so than his inner thoughts.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thanks to Alex and Clarissa some very good tips, I will certainly pop over to Clarissa's blog in the future,

Have a grand day.

Yvonne.

Clarissa Draper said...

Thanks so much, everyone! I will check back throughout the day to make sure I read all the comments. One reason I like guest posting is because I can meet new and interesting bloggers. I'm going to check out everyone's blogs now!

Clarissa

Laura Eno said...

Good advice. Thanks for posting this, Alex, and giving me an introduction to Clarissa this way.

N. R. Williams said...

Raise your hands if that was the type of dialogue you used when you first started writing. Oh yeah, years ago of course, but it brought back memories and reinforced the need for good feedback and great education. Thank you Clarissa and Alex.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Liza said...

Great advise, and with humor too. Thanks Clarissa and Alex.

DEZMOND said...

I do not agree on keeping your opinions out of your work and dialogues. Most of the biggest writers have used some of the characters as their channels for expressing their own political, social and other opinions. This is very important because quality writers will always write with the goal to educate and enlighten their readers not just to entertain them. Off course, like in everything else, it has to be dosed in the proper amount.

aspiring_x said...

thanks for the advice clarissa! i was just thinking last night, gee whilakers! my dialogue sucks! very timely tips! thanks! :)

Clarissa Draper said...

Thanks, everyone!

And Dezmond, you're exactly right. Writers, even fiction writers, express their beliefs of the world in their writing. They can't help it. My problem is when characters go on rants that obviously come from the author because it doesn't fit the character. And "proper amount" is key! Thanks, Dezmond.

Well, aspiring_x, I hope it helps.

CD

Mason Canyon said...

Very good advice. Without great dialogue the story can be lost and you're left just reading descriptions.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Michele Emrath said...

Dialogue is an acheivement step for every writer, Clarissa. And as simple as it might seem, your #1 is the most important. I can't tell you how many lines of dialogue I could slash through in some novels! It is frustrating to read something and realize it was unnecessary, which makes it poorly written. If it adds humor or insight into a character or actual action progression, it is valid. Otherwise, cut it!

Great post, Clarissa! Thanks for having her, Alex.

Michele
Emily Dickinson biographer on SouthernCityMysteries

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Fantastic advice! I think dialogue is different for everyone, but these tips seem mostly universal. Anne of Green Gables - that was dialogue I didn't mind reading when it spanned for a page and a half from one character. :)

Thanks for these tips!

Clarissa Draper said...

This is my first guest post. And boy-o-boy, have I been missing out! Now I want to have guest bloggers.

Thanks for the wonderful feedback!

CD

Sugar said...

Thanks for the tips.. I am horrible at dialogue.. I need practice for sure!

Theresa Milstein said...

Great advice. I've noticed some new writers like to use people's names too much in dialogue. In real life, we don't utter the person's name we're addressing very much in conversation.

Karen Walker said...

This is such sound advice. Thanks Clarisa and Alex. As I am making my first foray into fiction writing, this will be very helpful to keep in mind.
Karen

Zoe C. Courtman said...

*snickers at bad dialogue examples* Dialogue's one of my favorite things to write - love hearing that rhythm and using it to push a story forward. Thanks Alex & Clarissa! Great post!

Velvet Over Steel said...

Wonderful post and advice! I have no 'training' at all and there is so much to learn! This is great! Thank you for sharing with us!! :-)

~ Coreen

The Old Silly said...

Being and advocate for and connoisseur of good dialog writing, I especially liked this post. Excellent advice here, thanks for sharing!

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

I absolutely love your example dialog!

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm not a big fan of dialogue. I generally find books with a lot of dialogue to be very hard to get through.

arlee bird said...

Clarissa provides so much great information on her blog. She was a good choice to have as a guester.

I always enjoy writing dialog. It can be a challenge to subtly reveal information and move the story but it's one of my favorite ways to do it. I think I understand how Charles feels. Too much dialog can be confusing at times at a reader can easily can lost. The skill of the writer helps clarify things immensely, but the reader also must really focus on long passages of dialogue.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad everyone's getting so much out of Clarissa's dialogue tips!

Crystal Clear Proofing said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! I can see how valuable this is for writers. As an editor, I have read dialogue like that. It can confuse the reader, cause them to lose interest, or miss something important because they're scanning through the mess of words. I've actually caught myself doing that — a huge hazard for a proofreader!

RaShelle said...

Alex - Thanks for bringing Clarissa over for a visit. Great tips.

Sangu said...

Haha I love that sample of bad dialogue! And yet I've actually seen dialogue like that in so many books I've read, it always makes me cringe!

Daphne du Maurier does dialogue beautifully in her novels. It never feels forced or out of place.

Thanks for this, Alex and Clarissa!

Clarissa Draper said...

Thanks again, guys, for your wonderful comments.

Holly, I'm glad you like my example as long as you know it's a BAD example.

Charles, I'm opposite. I can't get through a book with mainly description.

Arlee Bird, thanks!

CD

Jules said...

I love Clarissa. She is such a wonder here in blogville.

I hope my post today follows the rules. I just needed to write though.

Good Job Clarissa, and Alex thanks for the post.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Jemi Fraser said...

Great tips - there's nothing worse than reading bad dialogue :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

LOL! That was a PERFECT example of really bad, info-dump, dialogue. Love the advice...especially the part about making it end.

Great post!

Grammy said...

Great ideas, Alex and Clarissa! Actually, I love writing and reading dialogue. Thanks for the suggestion of writing several pages of dialogue. If I ever seriously take up writing as a profession, those are excellent ideas.
Ruby

Carol Kilgore said...

Great tips, Clarissa. Thanks for hosting her, Alex.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Clarissa, thanks so much for visiting! And I can't read description-heavy books, either. Dialogue is much more interesting.

Lydia Kang said...

Great advice and samples of awfulness. I can always work on my dialogue.

That's so cool you wrote a whole book of dialogue!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I laughed out loud at Clarissa's example of how not to write dialogue! I enjoy writing dialogue and can always use more tips on how to make it better. Thanks.

She Writes said...

Hi Alex,

Thanks for dropping by! Dialogue is my weakness. I appreciate the tips.

Lynda Young said...

Nice work, Clarissa. great advice coupled with a great example. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great advice...I think it needs tweeting. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Clarissa knows her stuff!

Walter Knight said...

What about slang? I try to keep slang out of my dialogue, even if you lose realism, because I do not like to read slang. Ever read Adventures of Hunk Fynn? It may be a classic, but it is tough to read.

Also, slang needs tobe updated, and it is impossible to stay up to date on the latest slang.

arlee bird said...

Walter, I kind of agree with you about slang, but in some cases it does help keep dialog a little more realistically topical to the setting of the story. But overuse can make the language difficult to understand.
In the case of Huck Finn, I think it is the use of dialect and not slang that makes it difficult to read. It was easy for me once I adapted to it. A few years ago my wife, for whom English is a second language, read Huck Finn and was very challenged by the dialect. I was rereading the book at the same time as she was reading it so I could help her with the difficult passages. Besides, I hadn't read it in a long time and had forgotten how darn funny it is.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Cheeseboy said...

Wow Alex, you are getting POP-U-LAR!

Dialog is tough, but she does a great job breaking it down.

Stephen Tremp said...

I've visited Clarissa's blog numerous times. Its a winner. Thanks for having her. Dialogue that rambles is wasting the reader's time. Then again, during my re-edit I needed to add dialogue. Too much typing out what was happening.

On the flip side, when I did write dialogue, my editor brough to my attention I like to write long sentences. And I'm redundant. So there is an art to finding that balance. And a good editor helps too.

Stephen Tremp

sarah said...

great tips...I like using dialogue to give the reader a bit more insight into the character. thanks for this

Chuck said...

Thanks Alex and Clarissa! Good post. Since I was turned on to Clarissa's blog I have found it very entertaining and educational. Who knows, I may even write something someday! Worthwhile that is :)

Glynis said...

Thanks for the interesting post. My first draft had no dialogue. I played around and my characters couldn't stop talking after that. It certainly improved the storyline.

Talli Roland said...

I love Clarissa's blog - she's full of great advice.

Thanks Alex and Clarissa!

Hart Johnson said...

Clarissa DOES have great advice! It's funny. I WRITE in dialog... meaning my first drafts are always super dialog heavy. I think it's because it is the best way to show relationships (as opposed to telling about them)--same with personality quirks. It took a while to learn though, not to put in every 'well' or 'um'... or stuttering or stumbling over words? don't do much of it.

Jules said...

I have something for you on my blog :D
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Geof said...

Thanks for providing these tips from Clarissa, Alex, Pointers like these can assist across all forms of narrative, including scriptwriting.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Ironically, I am a total vegetarian, but not one of my characters is a vegetarian!

Pat Tillett said...

Clarissa is a fountain of information! Now why couldn't I stop myself from the part, nobody wants to read? I'm your puppet...

Hannah Kincade said...

Dialogue is one of my weaknesses as well but I've been trying to get better and whatever doesn't work the first time can change into something fantastic later. Luckily I have two cps who are amazing at dialogue.

pseudonymous said...

Silent movies kinda floated away with the ark. And yeah dialogue in a movie assists character driven scenes.

Flood a book with dialogue, blackout a backdrop you got yourself a script and no scenic value for a movie.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Great advice :) I've often found that dialogue sometimes feels like it's been added by an author as filler, and has no bearing on the story or the characters at all. I like the pointer that every line of dialogue should tell the reader a little something about the character and/or the world they live in. I find dialogue more difficult to write than the narrative, so I'll have to keep all these in mind :)