Monday, July 10, 2017

A lesson in dialogue, by Ane Mulligan


















I cut my authorial teeth on dialogue as a playwright. I was the creative arts director for 11 years at my church. We did everything from the 30-second sermon starter to full-length musicals. When I first wrote my first few scripts, my actors often used different words that I'd written, or they changed the sentences around, and even—gasp—dropped words.

But I liked what I heard, so I dissected the changes and found the common ground. I wrote like Snoopy, trying to be literary. Gag. The lines were too perfect and not realistic.

Have you read a book where the dialogue actually pulls you out of the story because it's so stiff and unbelievable? Or worse, it sounds like an info dump, as if the writer's saying, "You won't get this part unless I explain it to you."

Well, thank you Billy Sunday. That'll make me throw a book across the room faster than a politician can empty your wallet.

So what does make good dialogue in a book?

It has to be realistic for starters. And it has to be organic to your character. If you're an Oregonian and writing about a Southern Belle, you'd better have a Cousin Sue Ellen read your manuscript or it may well be stereotyped. The same goes for Sue Ellen writing about a Yankee.

One problem is found in the way characters answer questions.

If you aren't sure how the characters would really talk, go to a local mall and hang out in the food court and eavesdrop. Listen to the half sentences, colloquialisms, and especially to the way people answer questions.

"Good morning, Bob. Where are you headed this fine morning?"
"Good morning, John. I'm going to the hardware store to get a new float for the toilet."

First of all, we don't really care about Bob's toilet, unless his four-year-old flushed the latest Wiki-leaks state secrets. A bit more realistic might sound like this:

"Morning, Bob. Where you off to?"
"Hardware store."
"Anything I can help with?"
"I got it."
"Okay, holler if you need me."

That's how two neighboring men would have this conversation. If it were women, it still wouldn't be complete sentences, but it might go something like this:

"Morning, Sally. Going shopping?"
"Macy's is having a huge sale, and you know those new slip cover I got for the den sofa? John ruined it with cranberry juice."
"I hear you. Bob got mustard on my bedspread. Why can't they be more careful?"
"I think it's in their genes."
"Yeah, he got mustard on those, too."

Anyway, you can see how their conversation veered off the main track. Another thing in romance is build conflict in dialogue. Jenny B. Jones is great at this. A few lines from Save the Date illustrate this point well:

"Do you know anything about football?"
"You toss around a ball and throw people to the ground. What else is there to know?"
"Okay then, what's a birdcage?"
"The name of the bar where you met your last girlfriend?"
"A cut?"
"A fantasy I have involving your throat."

She never answered his questions seriously and he kept asking instead of commenting on what she said. It was brilliant dialogue for building character and a great example of verbal Ping-Pong.

How about you? Do you have any great examples of natural dialogue that has stuck with you and helped you write better?

About the Author:

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, award-winning author Ane Mulligan has worn many: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), CEO of a Community Theatre group, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find her on her website, Amazon Author page, Novel Rocket, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.


Coming Home ~ A Tiny House Collection

Tiny houses are all the rage these days, but what can you do with something so small? Here are seven stories about people chasing their dreams, making fresh starts, finding love, stumbling upon forgiveness, and embarking upon new adventures in tiny houses. Travel with them around the country in this big novella collection.

Love is Sweeter in Sugar Hill, by Ane Mulligan. She has a tiny house. He lives in a mansion. She vows to charge a doctor with malpractice. His job depends on that doctor's finances. Will love find a way?


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