I'm author ELLE STRAUSS and welcome to my website!
I write fun, lower Young Adult (teen) fiction to do with whimsical things like time-travel, fairies and merfolk.
When my serious side peeks out, she's called LEE STRAUSS. She likes to write upper YA about real things that have happened in the past, or made up things that could quite possibly happen in the future.
This blog is about books, mine and other fab authors', but occasionally I'll share about other topics.
Thanks for dropping by!
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
How to Write: He said, She said--Creating Believable Dialogue
You have two or more characters in a room and they need to talk. How do you make it believable and compelling and not stunted and boring?
It can be tricky. First of all you have to remember that dialogue is there for a reason. It's meant to move the story forward. It's not a place filler.
Here's a list of dos and don'ts to help you along.
1) use dialogue to reveal character. Instead of saying your character is angry or selfish, show it by what they say and how they say it.
2)use dialogue to catch the reader up on back story. Sometimes it's more interesting that way.
3) use dialogue to create tension. It should never be smooth sailing between your characters. There should always be some underlining tension or foreshadowing of tension in what is said and how it's said.
4) use only the words you really need (see point 1 in the Don't list). Keep dialogue precise and to the point.
1) try to write dialogue the way we actually speak. In real life we use a lot of filler sounds, like "um", "like" and half sentences. It's okay to use certain slang words sparingly to emphasis a character trait, but the key word here is sparingly.
2) let all your characters speak in the same manner. Especially watch out that they don't all speak like you. :)
3) forget to add action in your scenes of dialogue. People are usually doing something while conversing, even if it's just making an expression with their faces.
4) use fancy dialogue tags like "exclaimed" and "shouted." This should be obvious in they way they say something. "Said" is the best tag because the eye just skims over it and it doesn't jolt the reader. Also acceptable in moderation are tags like "asked" and "replied."
Great dialogue reveals great character. How each of your character's speak reveal who they are and hopefully they’re interesting! And unique to the other characters around them.
Movies are an excellent media for show casing good dialogue.
The movie SUPER 8 has superb dialogue, especially between the kids. It’s realistic and revealing. Here is a scene at the beginning of the movie at a wake. A short conversation between two adults looking out of the window at teen boy on a swing in the snow tells us it’s the boy’s mother who died. His friends are gathered around the food table.
Kid #1 What do you think was in the coffin?
Kid#2 Geeze, shut up.
Kid#1 I’m just saying because of how she died. You guys weren’t wondering that?
Kid #2 No, I’m eating macaroni salad.
Kid # 3 I was wondering about that, too. I heard it crushed her completely.
Kid #2 Steel beam? Those things weigh a ton. Literally.
Kid#4 I don’t know how you guys can eat.
Kid #3 Try a turkey roll and you’ll discover how
(a man with a dog enters the scene asking for Joe, the boys stare)
Kid#3 I bet Joe’s not going to want to do my movie anymore.
Kid #1 Why?
Kid#3 Why do you think why, the story. It’s about the living dead.
Kid #2 His mother’s not a zombie.
Kid #3 But she’s dead sh*t head.
Kid #1 Those turkey rolls are pretty good.
Kid #3 Told you.
This is just a scene of a group of boys talking, but what they say and how they say it tells us so much about what kind of kids they are and what has brought them to this point. You already want to spend the next couple hours hanging out with them.
Here's a scene from Leif Enger's terrific novel, PEACE LIKE A RIVER. His two main characters, a brother and sister called Ruben and Swede are butchering a goose. Watch how he reveals character and builds tension through their dialogue. Notice that they aren't just talking at each other, but DOING something at the same time. Both the talking and the doing reveal character and create tension.
I had, of all things, a lump in my throat. Luckly Swede was standing at my elbow and said, "First thing, you have to cut his head off."
"Well, I know that."
She prodded the goose with her finger; plucked , it looked pimply and regretful.
"Then the wings," she said.
"You want to clean him?"
Swede let it go and stepped over to the ruins of a grain truck that had been parked behind the barn to rot. She shinnied up the big rumplike fender and sat there with the wind tugging her hair. It was a cutting wind; the light was leaking from a mottled yellow sky. Imagine a sick child all jaundiced and dirty about the cheeks--that's how the sky looked. I picked up Davy's knife and tried it against my thumb, then beheaded the snow.
Watching, Swede said, "Forgive me running, Rube?"
"I ran away."
"From the goose? Swede, it wasn't any big deal." I tossed the head into a carboard box we'd found in the barn anfd went to work on the wings. They came off a lot harder than the head; I had to saw the knife blade back and forth.
"Come on, forgive me," she inststed.
I nodded, but said nothing. Those wings were gristly fellows.
"Out loud," she said.
She was the most resolute penitent I ever saw. "Swede, I forgive you. Is it all right now?"
She hugged her elbow. "Thanks, Reuben--can I have the feet?"
I whacked them off at a chop apiece and tossed them up to th e truck. Swede caught them and scrambled over to the grainbed. My hands were freezing and I dreaded the next part--I ought to've taken Davy's offer to clean the goose. Aiming at a spot under the breastbone, I plunged in.
"Swede," I said--just talking so she'd stay with me--"I don't get what's wrong with Davy."
She didn't answer right away. She sat on the flatbed toying with the goose feet. She took so long to speak I got involved in a tangle of guts and forgot I'd said anything.
Finally she said, "He's mad about Dolly."
"Oh." Davy's girlfriend. "How come?"
She looked at me. "You heard," she said. "Last night, driving over."
We'd gotten a late start, as I meantioned. The football team had been busy getting whomped; it was almost eleven before we got on the road.
"I was sleeping."
"You were faking, I could tell. Just like me."
Here's a short scene from LIKE CLOCKWORK (companion book to Clockwise)
Adeline goes on a drive in 1955 with a guy she's just met.
We pulled into a lookout with a view of the Hollywood valley. A couple of kids in the car next to us were making out. I hoped Howard didn’t have any ideas. I wasn’t ready to let our relationship go that far yet.
Especially since we weren’t in a relationship.
Howard motioned for me to follow him out of the truck. We leaned up against the front bumper watching as the streetlights in the valley below started to pop on.
Howard shoved his fists in his pockets. “How old are you, anyway?”
“Eighteen.” It just slipped out. I couldn’t believe I'd just lied about my age.
“Eighteen,” Howard said, like he was rolling the number around in his mouth. “Are you sure about that?”
It was my ponytail. It made me look too young. “I think I know my own age,” I insisted.
“Well, then, would you like a beer?” Howard stepped over to the side of his truck and reached in to open a cooler.
“Eighteen’s not drinking age,” I said. Besides I hated the taste of beer. I shook my head.
“Who’s gonna tell?” Howard had a can opener on his key chain and used it to remove the cap off the bottle. He took a swig then eyed me with a tilt of his head. “I don’t really like girls who drink beer, anyway. Not very attractive.”
So in summary: dialogue, used together with action, reveals character and backstory, and creates tension compelling the story forward.
What about you? Do you have any tips on dialogue you'd like to ad? Post them in the comments.