It's time again for Insecure Writer's Support Group hosted by Alex Cavanaugh. You share any insecurities you have about writing and offer support and advice to help other emerging writers. I like the idea of sharing weaknesses, if we drop the pressure of measuring ourselves against others, we can have a lot of fun, even with the stuff we suck at.
It's okay to suck sometimes, because if you keep trying, you'll suck a whole lot less. Eventually you won't suck at all! Or at least that's what I hope.
If I look at my strengths and weaknesses in writing I would say my descriptive language needs a lot of work, but that I capture the voice of my character well. This reflection came as a surprise to me, because when I started blogging in 2009, I admitted I sucked most at dialogue. So, I set about to learn what I could about writing dialogue, here's some tips I picked up:
1. Watch out for 'Talking Heads'...
If your conversation runs too long, you'll have endless he said/she saids, and the reader loses a sense place - all the reader sees is floating heads rambling on. The solution? To break it up, insert a few actions and descriptions to remind the reader where the characters are.
These are the sort of lines you can insert.
"He makes me feel like a woman."
Max slammed his fist on the pine table, causing the china cups to shake. He pushed his chair out and it fell - he didn't pick it up, instead he stormed out of the room.
Susan followed him."We need to finish this."
Swinging around to face her, Max's profile filled the doorway to their bedroom.....
Get your character to move around, pick something up, stare at the sky... anything to put your reader in a physical place.
2. Said is fine...
When writers start out, they often worry about their limited vocabulary and can abuse thesauruses in an attempt to find more loquacious ways of speaking. You can have characters yell, declare, admit or whisper, but if they are truly just 'saying' something, then use 'said'. It's simple and does not distract from the voice. Said is one of the magic words that disappear as we read, so it's a lot less intrusive than other tags.
3. Where to begin...
Don't feel like you have to start at the beginning of the conversation. Does the reader really have to hear:
"Excuse me Mike, can we talk for a moment?"
"Sure Lacey, what it is it?" blah blah blah.
You can start halfway through conversation, or create impact by starting after one character has dropped a bombshell to the other. Jump straight into tension and drama.
Have fun with your characters, slip a joke in or highlight their personality in the way they speak. In any room full of people you will find a mix of personalities, funny people, rude people, boring people, shy people, etc etc etc. Make sure there's variety in your characters when they speak, don't have them all sound like one generic character voice.
Speaking out loud when you write the dialogue can help you create individual voices for your characters.
5. Name calling...
Don't overuse names. When you speak to someone you know, you don't use their name in every line. It's okay occasionally when you want to make it clear who's speaking, and Mum's often do it when they're mad at you (in fact then they usually use your whole name - no abreviations!).
I loved Wuthering Heights and the gothic but romantic language used. There was however, one character, a gamekeeper or some such thing, and I could not understand a word he said. Thick accent? Consider either not making it extreme, or making it extreme only occasionally. When this character has something important to say, make sure your reader can understand it. If necessary, include a translator.
7. Quality versus quantity...
There's no one formula for the quantity of dialogue you should use. Stream of consciousness text may have almost no dialogue and others quite a lot. Think about your audience. Teens tend to talk a lot, so if you are writing about them or for them you may want to have lots of dialogue. If your descriptions seem to drag on, you may need more dialogue, or if your narrative looks like a script, perhaps you need less (or insert more movement between lines).
Have fun writing dialogue, make it as different, quirky or dramatic as you can! As with all writing techniques, if it doesn't move the story along, cut it out. (I know I promised something on narrative structure, but soon, really)