January 2014 through December 2014 - Page 11

A s authors of fiction, regardless of the genre, we learn quickly that dialogue can drive or stall our tale. We eavesdrop on conversations, stealing snippets of chatter, and hope to find a place to insert it into our stories. We cut out the um and er words. We use said and avoid overkill tags like exclaimed, screamed, blurted and hissed. Still, we wonder why our dialogue doesn’t sound natural, or why our characters sound alike. We wish readers found our characters more enchanting, intriguing, and relatable. Let’s drill down and examine dialogue from a deeper level. From three different levels, actually. Make dialogue sweat and work harder. In real life, we rarely speak without purpose. The person in the room who chats just to hear himself talk, quickly loses his audience and finds himself alone. Same concept goes for the character who’s allowed to speak but adds nothing to the plot. Every line of dialogue must move the story. When you write dialogue, stop and note the paragraph above it and then the paragraph below it. Was that dialogue absolutely needed to connect the two, or does it seem more like filler? If you left it out, would the story still make sense? If dialogue doesn’t move the plot, advance exposition of a character, or give a clue, reconsider its existence. Be strict in this rule. Excise each and every spoken word that doesn’t pull its weight and assist the others. Empty dialogue is boring. Accent dialogue with the unspoken. Let’s look at the simple line, “I don’t think so.” Play with it. Watch yourself in the mirror and repeat the line in as many different ways possible, noting how you look. Say it with surprise, sarcasm, fear, confusion, distrust, and anger. How did you express each emotion to deliver the message? How would a blind person tell the difference in meaning? How would a deaf person tell the difference? Note the mannerisms, facial lines, hands. Heck, even get the senses involved. For instance, your character could sniff, scrunch her nose, and say, “I don’t think so.” Something stinks, but you don’t have to say it. The blend of senses, beats, and words show the story. Or use feel. She runs her palm along a surface, rubs her fingers together and scowls. “I don’t think so.” Or use hearing. “Catch that?” he asks. She tilts her head, gnawing her lip. “I don’t think so.” Or use taste. “Need more salt?” he asks. She licks a fingertip. “I don’t think so.” Playing with such a simple line can allow you to pay more attention to all the angles, layers, styles, and methods of delivering the line. Play dialogue bingo. Recall long car trips and travel bingo? You watched vistas pass by, hunting for a cow, a boy on a bicycle, a blue sign, or a caution light. You won when you found every item. Instead of sitting in a public place listening for any sort of dialogue, come prepared with your dialogue bingo list. • A phone argument • The pushy in-law • The flirtatious teen • A bored child • Dinner interrupted by an uncomfortable phone call • One person excited about a topic, the other uncaring • A senior addressing someone younger • A tired store employee • An intimidating man • An overburdened mother • A sales pitch • A person waiting in line, unable to remain silent • A person in a group who doesn’t want to be there If you will notice, each scenario involves conflict, or at least forward movement. Test yourself more, if you like, and combine the second and third exercises. Take those bingo situations and insert the line “I don’t think so,” and create writing prompts. Or shadow one individual, noting how he reacts and alters his words and delivery under different conditions like: • Taking a welcomed phone call • Taking an unwelcomed phone call Dig deeper into dialogue and you’re sure to discover hidden treasures. n C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com. Her weekly publications reach 35,000 readers. She works from her study overlooking Lake Murray in beautiful central South Carolina. Hope shares her expertise at conferences across the country. She motivates and educates writers to step up, take charge, and create their careers. Her latest FFW release is The Shy Writer Reborn: An Introverted Writer’s Wake-up Call. Her newest mystery, Murder on Edisto, is rf&Rwwr6V6&6Р6WFW&w&FW'2