Toothless Letter D

Dialogue. Talking. Conversation.

Talking is one of the most everyday occurrences, so what would a book be without dialogue? I don’t think it exists, so I don’t know.  Not very realistic, unless your books takes place inside a monastery where monks take vows of silence. Which, admittedly, might be interesting, but let’s assume that your characters, like 99% of people in the world, talk to each other.

But, the talking in novels is actually quite different from real life dialogue. Listen to a conversation, any one will do. How many times to do people pause, go um or ah or er, repeat something they just said? It’s a lot. I know I repeat myself a great length. Do readers want to read that in their conversation? No, they don’t. The job of the writer is to mimic real conversation, but to delete all the bits that make it boring.

Second big thing. Adverbs. How many times does someone say something, and then you tag something that ends in -ly. Hysterically, angrily, happily, excitedly. All of those ones that end in -ly. Yeah, they can go. Probably not every single one of them, but 95% of them are unnecessary.

Why? Because they are noticeable. And you should be able to convey the emotions that they describe with dialogue and action. Is your character angry? Show their red face, maybe they thump the table, short sharp words. You won’t need to add ‘he shouted angrily’ because the reader will know that the character is angry already. It’s over explaining it. Also avoid physical impossibilities, such as snarling or grimacing. People can do these things, but you can’t speak and do them at the same time. Try it, its not possible. So your characters can’t do it either.

coulour_speech_bubblesAnd talking about noticeable, you know what isn’t noticeable? Said. He said, she said, they said, xir said. Said is really unnoticeable, so you cannot overuse it. Although you don’t need to use it all the time. When a new conversation starts, it’s important to know who is talking, but after a while, especially if there are only two characters involved, you can just drop speaker attributes all together, because conversation will swap back and forth between those two characters and readers will know who is speaking.

They will also know who is speaking if you work on giving every a unique speaking voice. In my current book I have three characters, sisters Esme, Danna, and Rose. Esme is a very blunt, so she speaks using as few words as she can and always gets to the point. Danna works with a lot of mechanics so she’s has a more colourful and looser structure than her sisters, despite growing up in nobility, whereas Rose is a well-spoken young lady, polite and never concatenates words. So even if I don’t tell you who is speaking, if I have done my job as an author, you should be able to tell which one of them is speaking at any one time. But you should start the conversations off with speaker attributes, for a little bit of clarity.

Although one thing I would recommend avoiding is phonetically different dialects. It’s just hard to read. Grammar, catch phrases, diction and pronunciation can all be used instead of dialects to indicated that a person is from a region, and the reader can then supply the accent in their head. And we all have accents. Mine is rather posh British, but that happens when you grow up near one of the Queen’s castle, don’t you know.

Oh, and the last bit of advice, probably the most basic but essential piece of advice in this post, is to start every new piece of dialogue on a new line or paragraph. Because it makes it so much easier to read. I’m mainly including this bit because I was one of the judges for the first round of a competition called 500 words, where kids from 7 to 13 enter stories of 500 words or less. It’s was really amazing to read what these kids had written, even if some of them needed some work, and this was one of the things that I saw the most. Not enough paragraph use. But they can get there, go writing kids!

Ah hem, sorry, getting a little excited about that.

And there’s we have D for Dialogue.

And D is also for dragons. I wasn’t going to let D slide by without some dragons was I? Dragon dialects are amazing in themselves. From the ones that can talk all kind of languages, to the ones that can’t. Dragons can make as many sounds as humans can, and probably even more given they live so much longer than us!