Tips for aspiring writers – part 6

Amanda Sington-Williams on: Dialogue.

Dialogue plays an essential part in novel writing. Dialogue can move the story on and can be used as a tool for informing the reader about one character’s backstory. Dialogue also develops characterisation and can add tension to the narrative.

Your characters will all have different ways of speaking, have individual turns of phrase and use certain words more than others. When writing dialogue, make sure each character sounds different. Unless it is important to the narrative or characterisation, it is a good idea to cut out all the frills like greetings, enquiries about cups of tea/sugar/milk, the weather, traffic on the road, the inconsequential chit-chat that we spend time on in real life. Too much of this will slow down the narrative. When writing dialogue, use different ways of telling the reader what is the mood of a character. Rather than saying he/she said angrily/tearfully which describes the character’s emotions, you could show the emotions through the action. E.g. ‘Close the door.’ He banged his fist on the table instead of he spoke angrily. ‘Close the door,’ He wiped his eyes instead of he said tearfully. You could just use simple speech tags (he/she said) or if the dialogue is rapid, simply rely on the voices to tell the reader who is saying what.

Use body language to tell the reader what mood the character is in. Tell the reader where the character is looking when they speak. If they are avoiding eye contact, perhaps they are lying. On the other hand a character who is gazing at another character as they speak means something else entirely.

Dialogue can be used to create tension too. Think of ‘the elephant in the room’. It is not unusual, especially within families, for there to be a subject which is avoided at all costs. Also, people don’t listen to one another. People have their own agendas in conversation. They butt in and don’t finish sentences. They hesitate when they’re thinking of something else or they want to avoid responding. There can be misunderstandings in conversations. Sometimes people do not say what they are actually thinking. You need to make your characters as realistic as possible. And if you’re writing from one person’s perspective, neither the narrator nor the reader will know what’s going on in another’s character’s head. All these tactics can add tension in your writing.

And it’s probably a good idea to get the layout right. Copy the layout from any contemporary work of fiction.

I hope you enjoyed this short series of writing tips! Please feel free to leave your comments below.


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