Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Writing Believable Dialogue

by Kathryn Dionne  

For me, writing believable dialogue is one of the most challenging aspects of writing a great story.  

When I first started writing books, I would go into coffee shops, restaurants, and retail stores with pen and pad in hand searching for my next victim.  I’d seek out a couple deep in conversation. Then I would move in closer so that I could eavesdrop on their discussion. My thought behind this stalking strategy was; what better way to capture realistic dialogue than to listen to it first hand?

I quickly realized how bad an idea this really was.

One particular time I was in a clothing store.  I had focused on two teenage girls deep in conversation as they rummaged through a rack of sale items. I thought, fantastic! Now I’m really going to get some juicy and plausible dialogue.

Their conversation went something like this;
“Like, I’d really wear that.”
“Uh huh. Me either. What time is it?”
“I dunno. You wanna go?”
“I dunno, do you? Eew, like I’d really wear that.”
And round and round their conversation went. I kept thumbing through the rack next to them hoping they would give me more than a three word sentence. I needed more information, more realistic verbal interaction between these two characters.  Why wouldn’t they wear those shirts?  Were they too small? Too large? Not the right color or the right style?  I needed to know.  And once they left there, where would they be going?  To another store? Out to eat? Home? To visit their boyfriends?  There seemed to be so many details that had been omitted.  And what they had told me did not advance the story. In fact, their dialogue stalled it. I didn’t know anything more about their situation than when I first walked over.  They weren’t giving me any new information. And the information they had provided was lacking in depth and dimension.  They had not bothered to set the mood or establish the tone of the conversation.  Why did character #1 want to know what time it was?  Did she have some ulterior motive?  Was she hiding something from her friend? I kept waiting for more nuggets of insight into who these girls were and what their motives were.  But the dialogue continued its monotonous loop with no change in pace or differentiation between the two voices. Were they even listening to themselves?

In my mind I screamed out, give me something more! I needed to see an action that would move the story forward, like a glance over their shoulder toward the door as if waiting for someone, or a quick look at the manager standing near the cash register to make sure they weren’t being watched.  Without some subtle movement or gesture to evolve the story, I was lost.  And yet, I knew there was so much more to this tale that needed to be told. So without thinking, I grabbed the arm of the girl closest to me and said in a rather breathy voice, “Where are you going next?”  I wasn’t going to follow them. I just needed to know!

I learned something very valuable that day about the do’s and don’ts of writing believable dialogue:

1.      Make sure your dialogue moves the story forward.
2.      Let your dialogue set the mood and tone of the story.
3.      Use action to break up the pace of the dialogue.
4.      Add depth to your characters by giving them each a distinctive voice.
5.      Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it is flowing in the direction you want it to go.

1. Stalk anyone to get your realistic dialogue!

I won’t bore you with the details of what happened next.  Suffice it to say, I’m not allowed in that store any more.

About the Author

Kathryn Dionne, the author of The Eleventh Hour trilogy and Derek The Fireless Dragon, lives in Southern California with her husband, Jeff, and their two Shar Peis, Bogey and Gracie. 
From an early age, Kathryn’s love of treasure hunting sparked an interest in archaeology. As an amateur archaeologist, she’s been fortunate enough to uncover some very unique artifacts in different parts of the globe.  However, she’s still searching for that very special scroll.
In addition to writing, she manages their five-acre property and their grove of Italian olive trees.  Her husband has lovingly named their business; Saint Kathryn’s Olive Oil. 
In her spare time, she makes cookie jars and throws pottery in her studio.  She also creates mosaics from discarded objects and sells them under the category of Found Art.
She is currently writing a new series called, Chasing Time, which she hopes to have published some time in 2013.     


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