Thursday, May 03, 2007

More Dialogue Tips, and a Love Affair with Shakespeare

"It's not enough to speak, but to speak true."
~Wm. Shakespeare

Congratulations to Ceri, the winner of yesterday’s Writers’ Wednesday drawing for a $5 Amazon gift certificate! Ceri, email me at and let me know which email address to send it to.

Thanks to everyone for your great comments, by the way. A couple of good dialogue tips that I left out but others mentioned:

1. Avoid using adverbs in your taglines. Really, there’s no reason to write “he said softly” or “she called annoyingly.” Take the action and put it right into your dialogue (thanks for the tip, Fred Charles!)

2. Spend some time at the mall eavesdropping if you want to develop an ear for true dialogue. Good writers pay attention to the way people speak, with all their hems and haws and starts and restarts. Then they learn how to leave in just enough of those awkward moments to keep the dialogue realistic (thanks for the tip, bunnygirl!)

3. Infuse enough dialect to show a character’s nationality, but not so much that it overtakes the meaning of the words themselves. You want to show some flavor in word choice and pronunciation, but you don’t want to lose your reader either (thanks for the tip, Carolan Ivey!)


Yesterday in class (I’m doing Shakespeare‘s Othello with my seniors), two students confessed they’d “read ahead” to find out the ending of the play. Another asked if colleges offered Shakespeare courses for non-English majors (she’s going pre-med), and just when I thought I’d keel over from pure happiness, another looked up at me and said, wide-eyed, “You know, Shakespeare’s a good writer.”

I replied, “Yeah, he’s okay.” Wink. Smile.

She went on. “No, really. Like, how does he know how to keep adding suspense, and make it so you have to keep on reading? Every time you turn the page, something else happens, and you catch your breath ‘cause you can‘t believe it.” Sigh. “I could never be a writer.”


bunnygirl said...

Regarding dialect, it's good to remember that intentionally misspelling words to mimic dialect has been out of favor for decades.

It's just soooo hundred years ago!

Use word choice instead to make dialect distinctions. In my current WIP, no one's going to mistake rural-bred soldier Ellie Mae:

"Me and my gals had a little talk about y'all. And we want you to know as a matter of record that we thought all along what Bonham did was wrong. We told him months ago those mavericks was nothing but trouble and should be strung up."

for urban intellectual Amalia:

“You know, I've had lots of time to think since I came here, and I wonder if it might not be the best thing. You've gotten yourself so mixed up, I don't know if you have any idea what you really want. Some time on your own, away from all of us, might help you sort things through."

Just like clothing styles, writing styles go in and out of fashion. Littering a story with deliberate misspellings in Mark Twain style is the literary equivalent of going around in a polyester leisure suit. You might be able to pull it off without looking clueless, but you've got to be really uber-special to do it, so why take a chance?

fred charles said...

Bad dialogue is a sticky subject with me. I've put books down because the dialogue was so bad. I only hope that my own dialogue is good, lol. I always have a blindspot when it comes to my own work.

Ceri said...

Thanks Allie!!