Dazed and confused

my sisters grave robert dugoniI am a a bit dazed and confused right now. I have been intensely preparing to give a seminar on writing dialogue at conference next weekend, but now the convention has been cancelled. Apparently not enough people pre registered. And I was all prepped to hear an announcement from Robert Dugoni!  Now I won’t know what it is until he tweets it. And his book, My Sister’s Grave was just named one of the top five thrillers of 2014.  I love it when an Indie goes viral!

But on the positive side, I am now free to focus on editing for clients, prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014 and several other things that demand my attention. Also, I don’t have to hope and pray I can find a vegan-friendly restaurant near the hotel (which I also cancelled.)

I had planned to talk about talking–at least about how your characters might talk, if they were talking to you in real life.

So how do we convey a sense of naturalness and avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded info dump and stilted dialogue? First, we must consider how the conversation fits into the arc of the scene.

It begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, an integral part of the scene, propelling the story forward to the next scene. A good conversation is about something and builds toward something. J.R.R. Tolkien said dialogue has a premise or premises and moves toward a conclusion of some sort. If nothing comes of it, the dialogue is a waste of the reader’s time.

First we must identify what must be conveyed in our conversation.

  1. Who needs to know what?
  2. Why must they know it?
  3. And how many paragraphs do you intend to devote to it?

My rule of thumb is, keep the conversations short and intersperse them with scenes of actions that advance the plot. Walls of conversation don’t keep the action moving and will lose readers, so make the conversations important—and intriguing.

Author James Scott Bell says dialogue has five functions:

  1. To reveal story information
  2. To reveal character
  3. To set the tone
  4. To set the scene
  5. To reveal theme

So now that we know what must be conveyed and why, we arrive in the minefield of the manuscript. That will be the subject of my next blogpost.

The Arc of the Conversation

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Dazed and confused

  1. Dialog is an art. There should be degrees awarded for it.
    In my latest novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (shameless plug), I struggled to get the medical info into the story without it being a big info dump, so I employed the age-old device of the doctor-patient conversation. Still could be an info dump but between my protagonist’s quirky questioning and the doctor’s complaining, it flowed like a well-oiled dialog. Art–in all its well-oiled forms.
    Caveat: I know I have a tendency to try to say the same thing multiple times so I always must check long dialog scenes and cut back the repetition. In real life, of course, people get their point across by saying it over and over.Unfortunately, the impatient reader will have none of that!

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    • So true Stephen! But I found your dialogue to be exactly right–moving the story along, offering information in small dribbles, but always there for a purpose. I love that book–and being an Indie means shameless plugs are de rigueur.

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