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Monday, December 3, 2012


What am I going on about now?


Dialogue ... in our novels to be exact.

The best words are actions, of course. But that doesn't mean your significant other doesn't want to hear the words. "I love you."

In the cartoon above Calvin doesn't say he trusts and loves his mother. His actions show it.

But you and I both know she'd probably like to hear it from him sometime.

I.) Good dialogue is essential in our novels if we want to succeed.

A.) What is good, "draw in the reader" dialogue?

B.) It is not actual speech.

1.) we pause.

2.) we drift

3.) we stray or become confused and stammer.

C.) It is not the State of the Union Address either.

1.) No blunt instrument of prose

2.) No chunky, thick paragraphs.

D.) It is a reflection of real speech :

1.) It is the distillation of actual speech

2.) Think of it as a pruned bonzai tree of real conversation.

III.) We interrupt each other

1.) People break into the words of the other or plain talk over one another in a "listen to me now" barrage of words.

2.) No taking polite turns in real life.

3.) So aim to have the other person respond to the other character after every line.

4.) It won't always be possible, but you should never let a person talk for more than 3 lines.

5.) Why?

6.) Never tire the eye of the reader (especially the already tired eye of the agent!)

III.) Good dialogue reveals the character of the person talking

A.) Surface message reveals

B.) The intent of the speaker.

IV.) Good dialogue reveals the inner heart and mind of the speaker while moving the story forward at the same time.

V.) Good dialogue gets to the gut level of the character speaking, defining her experience of what is going on around her and her reactions to it.

A.) Having your character's every other line questioned or reacted to by another ...

1.) creates a deeper, more dramatic story.

2.) creates more complex, more "real" characters.

3.) drawing the reader into believing the reality of your fictive world.

B.) You don't have to get this exact in your draft.

1.) Leonard da Vinci sketched the bold outline of his complete image in bold sweeps at first.

2.) He later refined and added depth after the whole composition was sketched on his canvas.

3.) That is what you do with your prose canvas.

4.) Trying to get your dialogue spot-on in the draft will only end up blocking you up.

VI.) Good dialogue requires rewriting.

A.) Rewriting in dialogue is cutting.

B.) Think of it as going on a word diet.

1.) Cut out every word you can do without as you would calories.

2.) Cut out going back for dessert :

3.) No seconds for your favorite words and phrases. One to a conversation.

C.) Read aloud your dialogue

1.) Listen to the rhythm of the interplay between the characters.

2.) Each character should have their own distinct rhythm of talking.

3.) Each character should have their own distinct way of expressing themselves.

a.) their favorite words and phrases should be different than the others in the conversation.

b.) their differing mindsets, educational background, their prejudices, their passions should mold their words into being distinctive to themselves.

VII.) Doing all that will make your conversations in your novel seem real, drawing the reader into becoming immersed into your story, perhaps even having them feel that the moment is actually happening.

What did George Bernard Shaw say of an irritating actress at a party? "The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech."
And now, just because I wanted to hear it again :


  1. My dialogue is brief. Actually, everything I write it brief.

  2. Alex:
    Just so long as you don't write in your briefs. Harlon Ellison did that and got pneumonia! :-)

  3. Keep dialogue direct and to the point! ;)

    Nice post.

  4. I like the video, but then again you know how much I love to dance....

  5. Dialogue moves a story along. I think Hemingway for this. Especially Hemingway. And I did manage to do it well in my memoir (LOL). I think about a screenplay where: "action is character, character is action." Dialogue is usually part of the action. Both keep the story moving. In a book, keep the "description" to a minimum. Who's going to remember what color a character's eyes is?

    You are great with dialogue, my friend. And your action passages are always superb.

    I love the Victor Standish prayer you left on my coming-back-to-blogging post where I mention chanting the Serenity Prayer to keep my spirits up. I'm sure you won't mind if I use it in my next post?! I actually don't know how to keep writing interesting posts; I don't have your talent for this.

    BTW, you said something about you don't have my email to send me something. Guess you didn't see the address on my blog. It's: bestann07 at gmail dot com.

    So good to be back in bloggerland, Roland. I hope I can keep up with the likes of you :) :) :)

  6. ibdiamond:
    Yes, what is said between the lines as well as under them conveys more than the surface words alone.

    When I dream, I dance, and it is in a world that whispers of the lovely past. I'm glad you liked the video.

    I was so happy seeing you blogging again! I'm even happier seeing you here.

    Like you, Hemingway taught me dialogue, along with Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, and Robert B. Parker.

    Thank you for the very kind words about my dialogue and action scenes. Victor and Samuel say the credit belongs to them. Hibbs is much too humble to say that, of course!

    You always write interesting posts to me. And Victor is smiling that you are going to use his prayer in your next blog.

    In THREE SPIRIT KNIGHT, I start each chapter with quotes usually of Victor that is found in that chapter. But I do use quotes from others like Salvador Dali and St. Ignatius of Loyola:

    "Act as if everything depended on you. Trust as if everything depended on God." (Father Renfield quotes that in the book.)

    Thanks for the email address. The anthology with the new adventure of Hibbs is winging your way. :-)