Tag Archives: Writing Craft

Write Deliberate Dialogue

By Karen Duvall

We’re deliberate about everything we write, so why should dialogue be any different?

Here’s the thing: Remember when you wrote your first story? As soon as your characters started talking it became a “wow” moment. The words flew onto the page as if your fictional people had taken on a life of their own. They’d become like real people having real conversations. Writing dialogue was (and still is) fun and you considered it your strongest writing skill. Perhaps you still do.

Writing down those conversations was the easiest thing in the world, and we were damn good at it. How could we not be? We talk to our friends, our spouses, our kids, the neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store… We know how to talk because we talk all the time. So writing dialogue is the most natural skill ever.

And then we discover it’s not as easy as we thought.

There is a skill to writing dialogue and I think it’s one we improve with practice. Lots of practice. It’s not just about ditching the dreaded speaker tags, or using “beats” to create natural pauses and add character actions to conversations that bring them to life.

There’s also planning involved. Which is what I mean by deliberate.

Most of us started out writing by instinct, probably because we’ve read so much over the years that some aspects of the writing craft were absorbed by our subconscious. This could also be why we assume writing dialogue is so easy. It feels easy. Planning it, however, takes more thought.

I recall one of the first lessons in dialogue I ever learned was more about what not to do than what should be done. First rule: don’t be boring. In other words, don’t write a conversation like this:

“Hi, Mary,” John said. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine,” Mary said. “How about yourself?”

“I have a cold,” John said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mary said.

Yeah, pretty bad. But what makes it bad? Well, for one thing, their conversation isn’t going anywhere. It’s not adding anything of value to the scene and it’s not revealing anything about the characters other than John having a cold. Big woop. If it were Ebola, maybe we’d have something there, but even then, it’s the presentation of this bland conversation that gives it a D-. Point is, this is not the kind of dialogue you want in your story.

Let’s say it’s important to establish these two characters greeting each other. It’s pivotal to the plot. Things can’t progress without Mary and John saying hello and confirming he has a cold. It’s a short greeting that has purpose. So if the conversation is going to be boring, do we have to use it? What other choice do we have?

Here is where being deliberate comes in. There are two kinds of dialogue: direct and indirect. Most of the time you want to use direct dialogue to show the characters interacting. You want to see them in action, hear their voices. But when the action isn’t important, or the details are superfluous, you use indirect dialogue. Basically, it’s a summary of the conversation.

It seems like such a simple thing, but how often do we run our characters off at the mouth only to discover what they had to say wasn’t any big deal. The big deal was for them to speak to each other. The precise content of the conversation itself isn’t important.

We can do this one of two ways, either of which is far more interesting than a he said/she said conversation. With indirect dialogue, you summarize the conversation in narrative:

I saw John yesterday and he actually said hi to me. I couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t spoken in weeks, then suddenly it’s like the fight we’d had in the store never even happened. And you know what? He looked like crap. Said he had a cold. I hope it’s mono.

Now you’ve skipped the boring part, went straight to the meat of the conversation, and added character development to boot.

Your second choice is to summarize the dialogue within direct dialogue:

John curled his lip in a snarl. “Yeah, I saw Mary. She tried to ignore me, but I refuse to stoop to her level. I said hello. Sure, she said hello back, but in that snotty way of hers, acting all high and mighty. I may be sick as a dog, but at least I have manners. More than I can say for her.”

Boring? No. There’s conflict here. We didn’t need John and Mary to have a conversation on stage, though they could have had one, depending on the needs of the plot. Sometimes you have to move quickly from one scene to the next so that you can get to the important part. The tense greeting between Mary and John is the propellant that ignited whatever flame scorches the root of their conflict. That conflict is more important than the boring banter we skipped to get to the juicy bits.

So be deliberate with your dialogue. Make decisions about what needs details and what can be summed up in fewer words. Then have fun writing it.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing as Cory Dale, Karen’s latest urban fantasy, DEMON FARE, will release December 15, 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

Beware of the False Hook

By Tiffany Lawson Inman

What do most writing craft books say about openings?

A lot of don’ts and dos.

Am I right?

  • Don’t use a lot of description.
  • Don’t open with back story.
  • Do try and start with action.
  • Do introduce the story theme and problem.
  • Do establish character and setting.
  • Do excite your reader.
  • Do show the promise of your novel in the first sentence, in the first paragraph.
  • Oh yeah…and DO hook your reader.

Hook your reader.

Hook your reader, HOOK YOUR READER!

All are true. All are dangerous. Why? Because everything rests on the HOOK!

E V E R Y T H I N G. Writers work their butts off on the beginning of their novels!

Or they should.

What happens after the first hook line? There should be a hooking paragraph. A hooking chapter. But that is not always the case.

How many of you have read a false hook? Loved the first line or paragraph, and then the book goes downhill. Such a disappointment. We don’t want a bunch of marketing tactics drawing your reader in for one bite, when the rest of the meal tastes less than good. It sullies our reputation as storytellers.

Writers should be hooking their readers through the entire novel. Raising questions. Little and big. Keep them turning the pages.

How to avoid the false hook? Look at more than what you are saying. Also look at how you are saying it. The tone.

You need to show the promise of your novel with what is going to happen and how the story will be told. They go hand in hand. The how is your needle, the what is your thread. Can’t have one without the other. Readers don’t want a great story that is written poorly. Nor do readers want a crappy story that was written beautifully.

Let’s look at how NY Times Bestselling author, Harlan Coben uses his needle and thread. Below are his first two of paragraphs of Tell No One in either the right order, or the wrong order.

Which one is the first paragraph? Does one have more or less promise than the other? **********You better not cheat. Don’t run and get your copy, or look on your Kindle.

Look at his writing.

Tone

Quality

What else?

The third piece to a solid hook: Reader questions. There are questions on top of questions on top of questions. Egging the reader to turn the first page and melt into this man’s world.

Paragraph A :

There should have been a dark whisper in the wind. Or maybe a deep chill in the bone. Something. An ethereal song only Elizabeth or I could hear. A tightness in the air. Some textbook premonition. There are misfortunes we almost expect in life—what happened to my parents, for example—and then there are other dark moments, moments of sudden violence, that alter everything. There was my life before the tragedy. There is my life now. The two have painfully little in common.

Paragraph B :

Elizabeth was quiet for our anniversary drive, but that was hardly unusual. Even as a young girl, she’d possessed this unpredictable melancholy streak. She’d go quiet and drift into either deep contemplation of a deep funk, I never knew which. Part of the mystery, I guess, but for the first time, I could feel a chasm between us. Our relationship had survived so much. I wondered if it could survive the truth. Or for that matter, the unspoken lies.

OOOOh I got the chills!

Are you turning the page for more? Yes you are.

He has given us over 20 questions in 163 words. And his tone? The intensity of his tone is one wave after another moving us further into his story.

It is always taught in speech writing classes: you tell the audience the same information three times in the course of an informational speech. It takes three times for your reading audience to really get what you are saying. Well. Harlan does it 20 times in the first two paragraphs. He wants us to listen and keep listening.

What is the difference between Harlan Coben’s novels and an unknown suspense thriller that has just been passed over in the submission pile? He uses the what, and the how, very well. And the tone he uses is a question in itself.

But, the biggest difference: Harlan keeps his answers close to his heart. He lets go of information in a deliciously suspenseful way.

A crumb here, a morsel there.

And he does not let go of those nuggets until after the reader has met the wondering threshold.

It is true.Timing is everything.

Harlan has excelled at the art of threading his hook through every moment of his Bestselling novels.

Look at your WIP.

  • How far does your hook get you?
  • How can you work in the concept of needle and thread?
  • When do you start giving up those precious answers?
  • Open to a page in Chapter 18, is the reader still asking questions?

Thank you so much for reading today!  Next month I will give you a bit more meat in the world of writing-craft-know-how, today was just a sample.

Do you have a favorite author that has a knack for threading a hook?   Let’s chat about it in the comments! I will be teaching online this summer and I will be giving a class away to one of the brave writers in the comments section. So don’t be shy, say “Hi!”

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Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online, presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars in  late 2014.

As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.