Writing as we speak (ii)

I wrote yesterday about the get-together I was planning fr my writing group, when we would be thinking about how we write dialogue and speech. I have to confess I chose the topic partly for a selfish reason, because I don’t feel that I’m very good at that aspect of writing – I hear my characters’s conversations so vividly that I tend to write down every last little thing they say – which might be realistic (in a fictional sort of way) but is just boring for a reader. You see, I forget my cardinal rule – remember your readers! Think about your audience!

We had a very good meeting, I am lucky to have a really interesting and different group of writers, very talented, and very varied in what they write. The discussion went backwards and forwards and I felt I learned a lot too. I had given out some sheets, as a sort of prompt to discussion, but in fact we didn’t get around to using them. They were points to consider when writing dialogue – or maybe points to consider when editing dialogue after you’ve written it!

  • what is the point of the dialogue? What is the point for the characters, and what is the point for the writer? – and what is the reason behind what is being said?
  • is it progressing the narrative?
  • is it revealing something about the speaker’s character?
  • is it giving information – about a person? a revelation? an insight into a character? Is the information through the content, the language the character uses and their style of speech? People speak in different ways to different others – a friend, a sibling, a boss

I read that dialogue should ‘be in conflict’… I wondered what on earth that meant, until I realised that unlike normal conversation when people can witter on about next to nothing for ages, for the purpose of something to be read there has to be if not conflict, then at least contrast – in content, in style, in character..


One thing we didn’t quite get on to, is what I have learned is called ‘dialogue tags’ – the she said/he called/they whispered… There is an almost endless list of different verbs in English which can be used to indicate not only who is speaking but how they are communicating. I had intended to mention that it’s great to vary away from the frequently used, but having really unusual words – such as opine, conjecture, affirm can be a distraction.

It’s always a good idea to read anything you have written out loud;  reading a dialogue can really throw up things which might seem unnatural, awkward or just pretentious! It’s OK for great writers to have a portentous style, or to be witty and original, but for most of us, trying to be natural and use our own ‘voice’ maybe better. I know I have blushed, yes actually blushed on rereading things I have written which I tried to make stylish or literary!

I mentioned wittering characters… and that’s a fault I have… in fact I will finish right now!



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