Post 1749 Sparkling Speech
The great Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story is “life with the dull parts taken out.” This holds true for dialogue as well. Sparkling, spot-on speech advances your plot and reveals more about your characters to readers. IN a terrific session on dialogue, David Popiel, a member of working Title Six, my writing group, shared some helpful advice from writers and craft experts:
Elizabeth Bowen offered 7 tips:
1. Dialogue should be brief.
2. It should add to the reader’s present knowledge.
3. It should eliminate routine exchanges of ordinary conversation.
4. It should convey a sense of spontaneity but eliminate the repetitiveness of real talk.
5. It should keep the story moving forward.
6. It should reveal the speaker’s character, directly and indirectly.
7. It should show the relationships among the speakers.
“Every person in a conversation has an agenda; you need to know what each agenda is.”
“[Dialogue is] not the way we speak. Dialogue must appear realistic without being realistic. It’s not natural, but must suggest naturalness. It is speech that is distilled, refined, and controlled.”
“Don’t tag an adverbial clause depicting action to a line of dialogue. ‘I’ll get the door,’ she said as she crushed out her cigarette and stood.’ Either the behavior is important or it’s not. If it’s important, it should not be subordinated to a line of speech. It it’s not important, it gets cut. ‘I’ll get the door,” she said. She crushed out her cigarette and stood.'”
“We always speak with at least two languages, with our verbal utterances and our physical utterances (our body language), and they don’t have to be saying the same thing. In fact, it may be more interesting if they are not. Then there is immediate tension in the scene.”
John Dufresne, The Lie That Tells a Truth
“…novelists such as John O’Hara or Richard Price, who favor a lot of talk and render it variously and well, are like playwrights or…screenwriters of the page. Their own style is subservient to the sound of the characters’ talk.”
Ben Yagoda, The Sound on the Page
And two more dialogue tips:
“Dialogue is not just quotations. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a page and crossing of legs.
“Speak your dialogue out loud. If it sounds the way people talk, then write it down.”
Let’s strive to keep our exchanges on the page spare and spirited. Bravo, David — write on!