Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week’s post is about writing dialogue in such a way that readers are drawn into the story…
Talk To Me!
by Monica Kulling
“I write description in longhand because that’s hardest for me and you’re closer to the paper when you work by hand, but I use the typewriter for dialogue because people speak like a typewriter works.”
— Ernest Hemingway
Writing story dialogue sounds like it ought to be easy, right? After all, conversation surrounds us, all day long. We might think we know everything there is to know about putting words into a character’s mouth, but it’s helpful to keep in mind a few tips in order to add that extra sparkle.
Story dialogue needs to be doing many things at once, which can sometimes be a challenge to pull off. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind. Conveniently, these all happen to begin with the letter “D.”
Each of your characters must have a distinct way of speaking not only so that the reader can tell each one apart, but also so that the character’s personality can be revealed as the narrative unfolds. Each character has something that is most important to him or her and this is revealed in well-crafted dialogue.
Write your dialogue so that the reader knows exactly what your characters are feeling and what’s important to them. Good story dialogue pays attention to the flow and of the words. Dialogue that expresses the sadness felt by a character is markedly different from dialogue that expresses exuberance.
Drive the story forward:
Dialogue should be purposeful. It should set the scene, give insight into characterization, advance action, and foreshadow events around the corner. Do not use dialogue simply to convey information. It must move the narrative forward. Writers listen with hearts and minds to their characters’ interactions, and this becomes the backbone of any story we are writing.
Your dialogue ought to sound like an actual conversation, but with the boring bits removed!
Write dialogue that not only accomplishes all the above but is also full of life and fun to read. This is possible by giving each character his or her own particular way of expression—his or her own dialogue notes, if you will. Like the color of a character’s hair, the way each character speaks, the idioms he or she uses, reveals something about your characters that description alone can’t cover.
I am by no means an expert on this subject but I have always enjoyed listening to and reading good dialogue. To get a better feel for this element of writing, go to the theatre and see lots of plays. A beautifully written play uses dialogue efficiently, majestically, and impressively. The ring of the words can be heard in your head long after the curtain falls.
Monica Kulling is the author of numerous books for children. Her most recent books are Mary Anning’s Curiosity, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon, and Alexander Hamilton: From Orphan to Founding Father, illustrated by Valerio Fabbretti. She is also the author of On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children’s Rights, illustrated by Felicita Sala. Monica’s books have been nominated for many awards, including the Norma Fleck Award for Canadian children’s nonfiction. Other picture books include the popular Great Ideas series; Happy Birthday, Alice Babette; Grant and Tillie Go Walking; and The Tweedles Go Electric. Monica Kulling lives in Toronto.