Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I interrupt my regular post schedule (again) to make a post

The holidays are over with the Epiphany celebrated yesterday (the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Magi.) So my blog was going to return to a normal post schedule of Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.

However, I blame my READERS for sticking an idea in my head that will not be quiet enough for me to enjoy my Wednesday.

Tee-hee! I am joking. I appreciate all my readers. Yet one of you said something in the comments section recently that has stuck in my craw and I suddenly feel the need to talk about it. Weird. This usually does not happen to me, especially when it involves a certain topic.


I do not mean a post about writing like my regular silly ones. I mean giving advice ABOUT writing. I have shied away, with a passion, on doing this. Maybe it is because I get this strange feeling that I would be a hypocrite about it. Sure, I can string a few sentences together, and once in a blue moon those sentences actually make sense. Yet I downplay this by saying, “How can I give advice? I don’t have the bookshelf of novels with my name on the covers? I’m not a published author with credentials. Stop kidding yourself, Michelle.”

And yet, for some reason, I have the need to break my rules about it - at least this one time. I think I can do some writing good for the community if I crack open the old noggin and spill the little bit of knowledge I have that . . . might . . . help. My footprints are disappearing at every step I make. I am walking into unknown territory. Is the surface as stable as it appears to be, or am I going to sink hip deep into nasty-nasty, icky-icky stuff? Oh, well.

Yesterday, Jeni from over at Down River Drivel made a comment about dialogue and how hard of a time she has at writing it.

Basically, dialogue is a conversation between two or more people (sort of). It seems simple enough - in theory. Yet speaking to someone and writing about a conversation between two people can lead to so many problems. Too much of it can create boredom. Too little of it can have the reader not connecting with the characters or getting a “mental break” from the background plot of the story.

One of the things I enjoy is writing dialogue. I enjoy it so much that I even try to fit it into every post I make, which I already did here where I talked to myself five paragraphs above. The following rules are just my beliefs concerning dialogue:

1: It has to be engaging. Dialogue has to catch a reader’s attention because it is how we learn more about the characters without being told in a lot of back story. You can give so much information with dialogue about how a character thinks, about their dialect, and the interactions this person has with other characters.

I believe, as writers, we shortchange the traits of our characters especially when it comes to dialect. There is not one place on this entire planet where people talk the same. I live in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, United States. From this information, I am English-speaking. I have a Northern slang instead of a Southern one. I have a rural accent instead of an urban one. So I am an American northern hillbilly, y’all. And because I live within fifty miles of a large city (Pittsburgh), I now and then drop an occasional Pittsburghese with “yenz, yoiks, and tewwible towels.” Ha-ha!

So if you created a character like me, first off I would tell you to stay on your medication for doing such an evil thing. But, seriously, see how much room you have to create a distinct character who could do so much just by speaking. “Waul, I’mz gonna has me some fun when yenz reada’s lay them thar eyes on this sentence.”
2: Dialogue has to give a sense of mood. In the fifth paragraph of this post, my dialogue shows frustration and self-doubt (hopefully that is what you got from it) without just telling you I am frustrated and doubtful of my abilities to talk about this topic. There were times when I believed that I needed a tag line either before or after dialogue to carry emotion. I have discovered that the dialogue itself should carry it and allow the following sentences to further the plot.

Yet with frustration and doubt, I downplay this by saying, “How can I give advice? I don’t have the bookshelf of novels with my name on the covers? I’m not a published author with credentials. Stop kidding yourself, Michelle.”

Did I really need that first part, “with frustration and doubt?” Or did the sense of the original paragraph work? Never add more then what you need, and consider every word you use as sufficient to relay the scene’s mood.
3: It has to capture the scene without making it seem out of place. One of the things I believe to the depths of my soul is that a story HAS TO FLOW. It has to have a natural transition, a smooth connection, between each sentence and each paragraph. I will strip apart a first draft looking for places where the sentences sound clunky. And I have no regrets rewriting dialogue a thousand times until it sounds right.

A hand rubbed against my shoulder. Then he shifted around the couch. His body fell in a hard plop, busting open the cushion seam. I did not mind. Why should I? A mere broken couch meant nothing when I had this Adonis giving me those loving attentions that I have missed for more than ten years. His lips connected to mine. So sweet was his kiss, like fresh rain longed for during a harsh drought. His tongue massaged mine as he whispered, “Marry me, Michelle.”
I pulled away from the kiss and grabbed the wine glass from the table. The strong alcohol washed away the sudden bitterness fouling our watery smooching. When the last drop slid down my throat, I took a deep breath before grimacing at the man.

“It is not going to happen, dear Adonis. How can you speak to me and kiss me at the same time? Either you have psychic powers that allowed you to give me such a marriage proposal without speaking, or you grunted those words. I have a little rewrite to do.”
There are probably a dozen more rules I could come up with, but these are the basics I follow when it comes to writing dialogue. If anything here can help you, then please build upon it. If I have confused you even more about it, you have my sincerest apologies and my promise to never give writing advice ever again.

Now, back to my regular schedule of posts. Hopefully . . .


  1. Great stuff here, M! Love me some dialect.

  2. Agree with Angie and Brenda, to begin with. But I think your BEST advice is in this sentence:

    Never add more then what you need, and consider every word you use as sufficient to relay the scene’s mood.

    It's not for nothing we have all those clichés like "brevity is the soul of wit," and so on. NOTHING puts me off as much as reading a dissertation on building clocks when all I wanna know is... "what time is it?" ;-)

  3. That burst cushion seam would so ruin the passion for me. ;)

  4. What an insightful description about writing a dialogue!;) Now I almost have to try to write one myself; I have never done so before.;)

  5. I was glad to see you were not writing about me. You weren'nt right...?
    Anyway, I appreciate your advice. I am more then ready to learn when and where ever possible.
    But it's still OK to be silly right? :)

  6. Oh my! Did you see the way I spelled weren't! Trust me I get worse!

  7. squirrely insights, michelle, he said, tongue firmly in cheek :O lol

    actually, right on the money :D

  8. I used to dread dialogue - I wrote so much narrative, it was ...well, boring to read I am sure. Finally, one day I just thought "sit your butt in the chair and start writing dialogue..." at first, some of it was "unnatural sounding" but then it began to click --

    It's "Faux Conversation" or -- oh, there was a great way someone put it and I can't remember -- but, it's how people talk but not - Oh, like artificially natural! something like that *laugh*

    GOod post!

  9. Now, take this problem and dissect it, please: Imagination! Or more accurately, the lack of said substance when trying to compose conversations between made-up characters! That probably gets more to the heart of the issues I have. Can't make up stuff for people to say, back and forth, not worth two you know whats in a bucket!
    Peace -and very interesting read in this post too.

  10. Angie: Dialect ROCKSS!

    Brenda: Thanks!

    Buck: Yikes! Are you saying my best sentence in this post is the one with the spelling error? Haha! It should be "than" instead of "then."

    I like the clock analogy more THAN any of the rest of my advice. Talk about short and sweet and to the point.

    Hilary: But, cushions can be replaced. Once in a lifetime love can't wait even if it is only in my imagination. ;)

    Protege: Do try it! You will have fun!

    Breverly: Silliness is a REQUIREMENT when visiting this blog. As for typing errors, be prepared to find a few here.

    Laughingwolf: Oh, you silly wolf! :)

    Jeni: Oh, No! You did not go there, girlfriend! Another post for me to do! ARGHHH!

    Imagination... we all have it. Perhaps I can give you a few samples on how to drag it out. (Next Thursday's post)

    Chris: I don't know where all the romance bits are coming from. Maybe it is an omen that love is coming my way.

  11. Yikes! Are you saying my best sentence in this post is the one with the spelling error? Haha! It should be "than" instead of "then."

    Understood. I always cut people slack where typos are concerned... we ALL do it, some more than others, what with editors being few and far between in the 'sphere. One almost always gets "the drift," typos or no.


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