Thursday, February 16, 2006

The importance of dialogue

Last night, the film INTOLERABLE CRUELTY had its UK TV premier. It went like this: an invincible alpha man is turned into a puddle of emotion by a strong woman, a plotline that is always good for a chuckle! I enjoyed it. It was incredibly silly but entertaining. What I really admired about the film, though, was the way the action moved forward almost completely through dialogue. Impressive stuff. It showed me that dialogue can be my most important tool, and it had some of the best comebacks and one-liners I’ve heard since the last time I picked up an Angela Knight book.

As a writer I’m still learning how to deliver good, credible and entertaining dialogue. When I look back at my early writing the thing that strikes me about it first and foremost is the lack of dialogue. I was scared of writing it, I admit it! It meant truly being inside my characters heads, being brave enough to speak their words. I wanted them to be witty, charming or powerful. It’s so hard! I knew I had to push myself, though, because it’s so important. There is no better way for readers to learn about characters than through their reactions and responses to others, and nothing makes a book come to life as much as great dialogue.

It's slowly changing for me. I’m braver now and I can see that I’ve improved even since last year. Unexpectedly, I made a huge leap forward when I started using speech recognition software. I have a condition in my hands that makes it difficult for me to type for long periods, so the Man of the House suggested I give it a go. I really wasn’t sure if it would work for me, and it did take a helluva lot of training. However, it was well worth it. Speaking out loud instead of typing a story appealed to the traditional storyteller in me. As I got more confident with it, I noticed this remarkable side effect: I was writing more dialogue, and sometimes it was even quite good! I recommend it to anyone who is struggling with dialogue, or can't do a lot of typing. I now use speech recognition for most of my new material. When I’m editing or doing e-mail I have to type straight in, but if it’s a blank page I am looking at I can roll with it. It’s still not easy to get a high percentage of dialogue when there is a lot of world building to do, in science fiction or fantasy, for example, but aiming for more dialogue has given my writing more life. I swear by it.

As a writer I’m learning all the time. I wish the stories would come out pure and perfect, but at the same time the actual learning is a big part of what I enjoy about writing, the fact that it involves doing research, learning about people and life, and about the skills and craft of writing. I feel I learned a little bit more last night from the Coen brothers and Intolerable Cruelty. For writers, the seeds of education are everywhere.


ZaZa said...

Good topic. I'm going to do a post on my blog, with a link back to you.

Saskia Walker said...

Thanks, Zaz, and you've got to see the film if you haven't already, it's Clooney. :)

wendywoo said...

Interesting about VR software being an aid to better dialogue writing... I've toyed with getting VR now and again, due to RSI flare ups, but for now, I've come to the conclusion that I'm still okay with the keyboard.

But I do often speak my dialogue bits out loud, in order to ensure it sounds natural.

And I've heard from quite a number of romance writers that there's an optimum proportion of dialogue to description etc that ensures a fast moving and engaging story... but I can't remember what it is!

Any ideas?

Jordan Summers said...

Dialogue is tricky. I have to watch that my characters don't start sounding alike. It is a constant struggle.

The end of last year taught me a lot about changing my writing approach. I needed to write a Harlequin Blaze in a very short period of time. I had to change how I dove into characterization, since I was only vaguely familiar with the format. I did that by asking my characters to tell me what happened in the story from start to finish. It came off like he said/she said, but I was amazed at how much information I was able to obtain. I plan to incorporate that technique in every story from here on out.

Saskia Walker said...

Wendy ~ not sure what the optimum figure is...

Jordan ~ thanks for calling by! I love your technique. It sounds like a great way to develop character really early on.