Dialogue guide part 2: Specifics
So in the first part we covered the way we talk on a day to day basis and how we translate that to dialogue in stories. In this part I'll delve deeper into more specific forms of speech, like speeches and internal dialogues.
I'll also delve deeper into writing great dialogue by covering more about how we speak.
In the next and final part I'll get more technical. I'll cover things like the purpose of dialogue, exposition and other aspects which tend to make or break good dialogue.
But remember, everything in this guide is based on my experiences with stories, my opinions and a little research here and there. I'm not a real writer, but, on the other hand, I do come up with a lot of stories. Either way, everybody has a different style and a different approach to things, hopefully this guide will help you with your own style.
Internal dialogues are a powerful tool for a writer. Internal dialogues show us the truth. They're the thoughts and feelings of a character which are unknown to anybody else, as nobody speaks exactly what they think. It allows the writer to create tension or loosen it up. It can reveal a character's true motivation and it gives the reader more insight into a character.
For example, the main character might be holding a dying friend in his arms. To comfort the friend he'll say everything will be alright, but internal dialogue shows he knows it's over and how much pain he feels over this inevitable loss.
There are a few rules you'll want to follow to make sure your internal dialogue doesn't sound terrible. They're as follows:
- Only write internal dialogue for the point of view (POV) character. Writing internal dialogue for other characters, especially for several characters will get confusing.
- Make sure it advances the plot. Internal dialogue should give the reader insight into a character, but we don't need to know everything a character thinks.
- Make the thoughts fit the character and the context. Just as everybody speaks differently, everybody also thinks differently. We use different words, we feel different emotions and we think about some things at specific times, but not at others. For example, in the morning we'll think about how we'll get through a day of work, but in the evening we'll likely think about what's going to happen in our favorite tv-show or, if we're stressed, we think about how we're going to get through the next day of work.
Speeches can be incredibly powerful moments in a story. Not only can they motivate other characters, they more than likely will motivate the reader as well. But there are a few pitfalls you'll need to be wary of when writing a speech.
Speeches tend to be long, often too long to be written out as one long piece of dialogue. To prevent a speech from getting dull all you have to do is break it up every now and then. Describe the effect the speech is having on those it's spoken to, let a different character react to the speech or describe the way the character holding the speech is feeling.
Long conversations and too much info
When a conversation goes on for a while it's easy to forget where the characters actually are. In fact, if the whole interaction is all about the dialogue it could take place just about anywhere.
Make sure your conversations are set in a scene, make the characters interact with their surroundings, we do the same in real life.
By making the characters interact with their surroundings and by describing how characters react you make it easier for the reader to digest all the information that is provided within the dialogue. It also makes it seem less forced Making a character talk on and on about something important will make it look like the writer desperately wants the reader to remember this information. Put trust in your readers, they will remember the information without it being spoon fed to them.
Accents are a tricky thing to handle. Like most aspects of dialogue, accents aren't something you want to overdo. It's fine to have a character speak with an accent, it can enrich both the character and the world they live in.
However, accents can also make a character difficult to understand or sound completely unrealistic when the accent doesn't reflect its real life version.
If your character has an Irish accent, use a few Irish dialect words here and there to make the reader understand the character's background. If you change entire sentences it won't just be hard to read, you also risk of making the character as understandable as Brad Pitt's character in Snatch (so not at all, which in the case of Snatch is done on purpose).
Not saying anything at all can have some of the most powerful effects on characters. A character might be stunned by a question or confession or a character might not find the right words to say in a specific situation.
As an example, think of the most intimidating person you can think of. Now imagine you're asking this person if the two of you are on good terms or if you should fear getting beaten up. This character stares at you for 15 seconds, showing no emotion whatsoever. After those 15 seconds the character turns around and walks away.
If that doesn't make you poop your pants I don't know what will. If the intimidating character had given any answer at all it wouldn't have been anywhere nearly as intimidating. Even if the answer was 'maybe' or 'who knows' it would've taken away from the dramatic effect.
During those 15 seconds you get more and more desperate for an answer, any answer, just as long as you know what your faith will be. Not knowing is worse than knowing, what if the character has something far worse planned than just beating you up? Those 15 seconds feel like 15 minutes of agony.
A situation like this offers a perfect opportunity for internal dialogue. You might try to show you're not intimidated, but you can't hide your true thoughts and feelings from the reader (as long as the writer writes them down).
Beginning and end
As mentioned in part 1 of this guide, real life conversations are generally boring to listen to. One way of dealing with that is to simply state the conversation happened, but sometimes conversations will contain both interesting and dull parts.
The dull parts tend to be at the start and at the end of a conversation, parts like 'Hello, how are you?', 'Okay, talk to you later." and other similar parts which don't add to a story. But they can be anywhere within a conversation.
These parts can often be left out. Doing so will leave you with the interesting part, the informative part. Once the important parts have been said, move on to the next scene or chapter. There's no need to keep the conversation going until the last bye has been said.
At the same time you don't have to start every conversation with a hello, start the scene later in the conversation, as long as you don't start it too late the reader will understand what's going on.