I’ve decided that today is Speak Like Yoda Day.
Bereft I am when lousy dialog do I see. Boring it is and throw away the manuscript do I want.
Okay, it really isn’t Speak Like Yoda Day. But there are times when I wonder if Yoda didn’t get his grimy little paws on authors’ manuscripts and wreak havoc. There I am, reading away, loving every word, thrilling in the author’s use of her language skills, when screeeeech! I bang up against the wall over the dialog. Those vibrant, three dimensional, living, breathing people now sound like robots in dire need of engine grease.
I know many authors who quiver at the thought of writing dialog, and I’m always quick to remind them that dialog is as much a writer’s tool as a computer and Thesaurus, so they better learn how to do it – and do it right.
There are any number of things that can take a reader out of a story, and dialog is one of them. I’ve talked about it before, but it bears repeating.
By believable, I mean is this something that would really come out of a character’s pie hole. Contractions. Use them. People don’t say, “I do not think it will matter if the beagle drinks too much tequila.” Well, unless they’re Martians, foreigners, or Star Trek’s Commander Data. They’d say, “I don’t think the beagle will blow her cerebral cortex if she drinks too much tequila.”
I love books where I learn more about the character through their dialog than through developmental narrative. So much can be revealed through dialog that reveals the specialness of your character. Your narrative can get across the idea that your character is wry, silly, casual, but those are sort of elusive characteristics. How to show that true essence of their core personality? Hello, Dialog. If, for example, you’re in the middle of a tense scene and your character says, “All things considered, I’d rather be shaving my eyebrows,” that communicates far more than any description you could come up with because it’s show, not tell.
How Would Your Character Talk?
I’ll never forget reading a spy novel. The main character was your typical gritty, tough talking, swearing, swaggery type. Yet he asked his fiance, “Are we going to be having relations tonight?”
After seven years, I still remember that line. And I’ve never forgiven the author or his editor. It was so pathetically pathetic because there is NO WAY the character would have ever talked like that. And really…who does talk like that? “Relations”? I’m not saying that everyone gets down and dirty when they’re discussing the horizontal mambo, but geez, they’re going to speak in the manner that’s comfortable.
You have to know your characters very well in order to understand the things that would come out of their mouth and the way they’d say it.
I know this seems simplistic, but I see a ton of dialog where I think the character would never talk like that. And I use my bloody red editing pen all the time. Dialog is vital to your book, and you have to respect it and your characters to get it right.
Consider the conversations you have with your friends, co-workers, family. If you stop to analyze those conversations, you’ll notice how informally we speak. Mimic that. Make it realistic. If you do, then you’re creating a smooth transition between your narrative and your conversations.
You’ll also note that much of what we say is duller than the beagle’s eyes after a weekend bender. I see a lot of dialog that mirrors this fluff, nonessential stuff, and my bloody red editing pen gets a serious workout. If your readers have to wade through the “Hello, are you?” “I’m fine, how ’bout you?” “Doing well, though my back is acting up.” “Have you tried good bourbon and radishes before bed?” Blah, blah, blah. By this time, your readers are looking for rope and high ceiling beams.
You need to keep your dialog tight, taut, interesting, and important. Have something to say. Otherwise, why say it? Why write it? Just like your chapters, your dialog has to have a reason for being there, so treat it with the proper respect. Dialog is the backbone of your story. It’s what keeps readers engaged. Too much narrative, and most readers get weary. They need it to be broken up with white space and dialog.
If you follow these simple guidelines, better dialog will you have. Go Yoda…
Do you have a hard time with dialog? Do you feel it’s because you don’t know your characters well enough?