Monday, October 18, 2010

The Fine Line Between Insanity and Dialogue

By Dorothy Cox (Guest Blogger)

Thank you so much for having me on your blog.

One of my favorite things to do with my friends is to read unpublished manuscripts by fellow writers. The internet has so many websites where authors can show off their unpublished work.

We’ve seen many wonderful manuscripts, and some that were not so wonderful. The difference?

Well, most of the time it’s dialogue. Some of the worst manuscripts have dialogue that doesn’t flow well. The writer wants to get somewhere and instead of taking the time to get there they just jump right in. They go from a normal sentence straight to the good stuff without a comprehensible transition. A reader notices when dialogue jumps ahead without evolution. Pretty soon your reader is too busy wondering why the character is so irrational, and not really reading what’s going on anymore.

You may know where you need the conversation to go, but when you talk to someone a conversation has a natural flow to it. If you want your characters to fight the conversation has to slowly escalate to a fight. You don’t just go from “I want a sandwich,” to “Get out of my house” in two sentences. You have to think about how to get there from where you are. A lot of this has to do with your characters motivations, and feelings. The reader needs to be aware of these as they read. They need to understand your character, and empathize with them. Bring some of the thought process into the dialogue.

In order to make your dialogue flow like a real conversation you need to be able to have a conversation with yourself. My father always told me that you weren’t crazy if you talked to yourself, you were crazy if you answered yourself. Well maybe we need to dip our toes into the crazy end of the pool. Become your character. Why are they going to get mad? Then bring some of your own life into it. We all do it. Think about the last fight you had. Why did you get mad? What part of that can you bring into your argument? How about your own motivations? Bring them along too.

Arguments don’t start off yelling, they start off as a normal conversation. Someone says something like “I want a sandwich.” Now start talking to yourself. Don’t be afraid to go off on a tangent. Tangents are good. But while you are off on your tangent keep asking yourself where can it go from here? A normal progression would be an offhand comment that can be taken further, to slightly escalate the fight.

A normal reaction could be “You always eat sandwiches. Don’t you eat anything else?” Well now someone’s made a comment that can drive you straight into an argument, and before you know it she’s kicking him out of the house before you can turn the page. And let’s be honest, aren’t most fights usually about something stupid? It doesn’t have to be the most important thing in the world, it just has to get you where you’re going. Just take a few minutes, dip your toe in the crazy end, and talk to yourself. The dialogue practically writes itself.

Bio: I’m a college student in Fresno, California. I’ve won a couple of awards for writing, and have been featured in the newspaper. I’ve been writing books since I was three or four, and I made my parents staple my coloring pages together so I could write a book on it. It wasn’t a success. Almost twenty years later I wrote my first real book, Watcher. When I’m not working, writing, or going to school I’m with my husband, probably sleeping.



Book trailer:


Lisabet Sarai said...

Greetings, Dorothy,

Welcome to Beyond Romance, and congratulations on your first publication!

I've learned a lot about dialogue in the last few years. The dialogue in my first books sounds completely unrealistic, everyone talking in full sentences. Nobody every used contractions! I'm getting better, but I still need to remind myself sometimes that I'm not writing a scholarly paper!

Madeline Elayne said...


I certainly agree! Dialogue is what, to a large part, makes the characters, and character development is what will make or break a book for me. Also, now I want a sandwich!


I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with wanting to correct her characters' grammar, even in dialogue!

susan said...

Dialogue is important for a book to hold your interest. I ALSO TALK TO MYSELF. No law against that yet. ha ha susan L.

Dorothy Cox said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed my discussion! I have the same problem with wanting to correct people's grammar. It's hard to remember that people don't talk the way they write.

Charlie said...

thanks for the short lesson on dialogue. So true and very valuable advice. Thanks for sharing. Now when I talk to myself, I can tell everyone I have a reason, I'm practicing my dialogue... ;-)

C.K. Volnek

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