“It’s quite a respectable death, being torn to pieces by women.” Black Friday at Walmart? Mitt after his “binders” comment? Bieber on any given day?
No, it’s actually just my luck of the draw for today’s WordPress Daily Prompt, which suggests that we open the nearest book to page 82 and use the third sentence in a post. I don’t usually do the Daily Prompt because life is short and there’s so much other stuff to write about. But how could I not, with a sentence like that?
Talk is Good
Perhaps I’ve just been in the Hopkins Writing Program for too long, but where I’m headed with that quote is to the importance of dialogue. Author Storm Jameson could have spent a lot of ink describing “eyes as black as ebony” or “hair as fine as dandelion fuzz,” but instead she gives us this:
After noting the respectable death aspect, above, our hero continues,
“But I’m an ordinary reasonable man and I should prefer an ordinary death.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t tear out your brain and read it,” she said drily.
“Dear Marie. I’m sure you would if you could.”
I have no idea what this book is about or who these people are, but in just those few words, we learn so much about the characters!
Why? Because that’s how humans relate. With words. Body language, facial expressions, thoughts behind the eyes – these are mostly absorbed at the subconscious level. But conversation is the leading edge of a character, be it fiction or narrative nonfiction or real life. In the blogosphere, it’s basically *all* words.
That’s why it’s odd that bloggers often do not make use of dialogue. I wish they did.
Dialogue breaks up a page and provides white space – breathing space, an open door for the reader to actually enter into the story. Unbroken blocs of text are uninviting. One feels lectured and excluded.
If you can’t find quotes or conversations to use, make it up. As in:
My readers are probably thinking, “She’s got a lot of nerve, telling us how to write a blog. She’s only been blogging a few months!”
How to Make Up Real Conversations
- Read writers who do dialogue well. I hear that Elmore Leonard is a king, though I haven’t read much of him. I’ll bet some of your favorite writers are good at it, or they wouldn’t be your faves.
- Read your dialogue out loud. Better yet, ask someone to read a scene with you.
- Tell stories in different voices for practice. Use your imagination to give voice to natural objects. Ask a rock to tell you its story. Interview a leaf about its life story. It will have a different “voice” than the rock. A feather?
- Recall a painful scene from your life. Or a joyful one. Write the dialogue just as you remember it. Deep feelings burn words into us. Recollection helps us process, and it also facilitates writing with real emotion. Tapping into memory and emotion allows us to enter our characters with insight and compassion. Even the most vile person can’t be all bad.
- Read, read, read! All different kinds of books. I tend towards old, musty novels, but if I only wrote dialogue like Anthony Trollope or Henry James, I wouldn’t have such a huge following. (Oh, wait – never mind.)
How to Remember Really Real Conversations
Nonfiction dialogue is harder than fictional because you don’t get to create your characters. They are real. You can still add depth to your dialogue by adding some actions to flesh out their personalities, thusly:
“Well, screw them!” she said, sipping her mint tea. To me, that says she’s complex. Feisty, but savoring a gentle tea.
Do the best you can to remember dialogue as it happened, but don’t sweat it. Your readers know you can’t be quoting exactly; just don’t make stuff up. And you have to expect that your sister’s going to remember it differently. That’s life.
I find that spending time in meditation or taking a walk – with a notepad, of course – can free up my mind to recall dialogue.
Read a Book
Well, that’s more than enough. Following a Daily Prompt should not eat up half the day. But apparently, I had a lot to say. I hope that the people in your blogs do, too!
Now please go read a book. A real one, with pages. And for more on that, visit this great post that was Freshly Pressed this week:
But before you settle in, take a minute to share your hints about crafting realistic dialogue. Here’s a spot for your words of wisdom: