What did you say? Dialogue and how saying less means more. Yes, that’s right, readers. In this manuscript, as its author, I am finding the conversations falling flat. I admit I struggle with writing effective and compelling dialogue. In this case, it’s most likely due to the writing being old and written strictly for word count. Some of the dialogue is perfunctory, like a robot is speaking, other lines just seem to just take up space and don’t advance the story. So, what, exactly do I look for or listen for to determine when dialogue is good versus when it is poorly written?
Read it out loud. If it sounds stilted or obtuse, it is – unless, that is, you want it to be interpreted as obtuse or stilted, .
Be consistent with whatever speech patterns you choose.
Ask yourself, would this character speak this way? Ask if what the character says is giving to much or too little information and conversation. Also, if there is a reason to insert misspellings, it better be a good one and it better not distract the reader overly much or don’t do it. Nothing pulls a reader out of a story more than bad dbialogue. In contrast, nothing pulls in a reader than realistic, compelling dialogue. There is a scene where Griffin is drunk and the line before he begins talking mentions he is slurring. Originally I slurred the actual words. The revision removes the slurred words and because I mentioned that he was slurring, the reader can take it from there. No need to overdramaticize or belabor the fact that he’s drunk.
Dialogue helps move along the story, take a break from exposition, and can advance the plot and allows the reader to empathize with the characters. Poorly written dialogue can turn off the reader and we don’t want to lose the reader, do we?
Think about reading Pig Latin. Remember that secret language? The writer doesn’t want dialogue to be confusing or opaque like Igpay Atinlay. What the heck is Pig Latin, you might be thinking. Go here to find out:
Here are some other tips:
Listen to conversations and how people talk. Pay attention to the natural speech patterns of your colleagues, friends and even folks on line at the grocery store. Think about how you would write it, then practice. Read, read, and read some more.Write every day. Work that mental muscle and it will make a difference.
Here is another glimpse into the story with dialogue. It is between Griffin, his good friend, George Po, and then Jillian over the phone.
Griffin stood by the carp pond on the roof of his three-story canyon house, tossing in freeze dried fish flakes and nutritional pellets. The carp, about six or so, came out from the depths of the pond and skimmed the surface, missing nothing. In moments the surface of the pond was again calm and the carp sounded back down to the pool’s bottom. He noticed that the ficus tree his gardener, George, had placed next to the pond was finally growing leaves.
“No touch, Mr. Griffin,” George Po reminded him, “they drop leaf when you touch.”
Griffin smiled and patted his shoulder,
“You know what’s best, George. I’m glad you stayed on after dad died.”
George’s Asian feature saddened, and for a moment Griffin thought he would cry; George and his dad were very close, and at times Griffin found that the wizened old Chinese gardener needed more comforting than he did.
The two men stood in silence, the hot breeze stirring leaves on the trees dispersed within the peaceful garden.
“Dad said he wanted you to add to the area near the pond, remember?”
“Ah, yes he sit there many times. I put tree there to honor him.”
They stood together looking at the flourishing ficus and dwarf cherry blossom trees shading a bench where Marchall used to sit to feed the carp. Griffin watched a stray leaf skitter across the bench beside the pond and land in it, bobbing in its own wake. The largest carp, which he’d named Moby, rose to the surface, his pentode orange and white coloration gave im an odd, haphazard look, as if he were rusting. He and George watched as Moby zeroed in on the leaf, then nosed it along the surface until it got waterlogged and sank.
Griffin thought of Jillian, how she played with the carp, laughing whenever one nibbled on her fingers, the same fingers he wanted to take and do very erotic things with .
“You think of the lady who pets the fish.” Said George, a sly look narrowing his eyes, “She is beautiful.?
Griffin laughed; surprised George had even remembered being told about her one night over dinner. They were both fond of hot chilies and cold beer. George did the cooking and usually Griffin did the talking.
“Yes, she’s beautiful. Moby liked her,” Griffin admitted, gesturing to the big carp. He tried to cull down Jillian’s physical traits, sure that he didn’t like at least one thing about her but found himself liking everything.
“You bring her to dinner?” asked George, “I make special dumplings, maybe scallops?”
“Yes, that sounds good, ”
He glanced at his watch,
“I’ll call her now and let her know. She teaches at night a few times a week but I’m not sure which nights.” He flipped open his cell and dialed.
“Hello Tiger.” She answered.
“Hello Dragon Lady.” He replied, “Got a sec?”
“For you? I’ve got as many as you need, what’s up?”
“George and I were feeding the carp when he said he’d love to cook for you. “
“Oh, that’s sweet, Griffin. I’m free Thursday and Friday.”
“How about Thursday? That’s our usual day anyway.” He glanced over at George, who was listening, and he nodded, then walked away to give Griffin some privacy.
“Thursday it is, then. Does George like anything that he won’t get for himself?” asked Jillian.
“H-m-m, he loves a good cigar. What I’d call big, fat, and stinky.”
“Okay, but I’m not getting him more than a few. It’s a terrible habit.”