Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tactical Tuesday~Dialogue, Dialogue and More Dialogue

Fluster McKnucklesby is back!

Welcome to Tactical Tuesday, everyone, where we here in Martha-Land present you with yet another writing tip for your enjoyment. Today's topic is:

Dialogue, Part One

I just got back from coffee with a friend. For about an hour and a half, we talked about video cameras, sports injuries, diabetes, the war, health insurance, and an addition she's planning on her house. I had a fucking blast and laughed my head off.

But if I were to transcribe our conversation and reproduce it here, you'd be nodding, your eyelids would grow heavy, and soon enough your head would be on the desk and you'd be snoring away. Dialogue that copies reality is boring. Why? Because in real life, we repeat ourselves. For instance, my friend and I complained endlessly about how the clerks at certain mass electronic stores try to sell you things you don't need... and gave NUMEROUS examples. For awhile there, our conversation was going in circles. (Well, what can I say? We were upset.) In fiction, ONE such anecdote would do, or none, if electronics retailers didn't bear on the storyline.

And there's the rub. Your dialogue needs to either further the storyline or develop character, preferably both. Characters complaining about mass market electronics retailers are dull, dull, dull (of course, Pam and I are terribly exciting, but we're real people, not characters, and are allowed to complain boringly once in awhile). The exception would be if your story depends on a twist at the electronics retailer or it's crucial in some way to the character!

Real life can be helpful to you in writing effective dialogue, however. Sit in a cafe, or in a subway, or at the park by yourself sometime. Take a notebook and jot down interesting bits of dialogue you hear. THIS IS NOT EAVESDROPPING. THIS IS RESEARCH.

There is a site called Overheard on the London Underground which illustrates my point exactly. Some goodies:

"Wagamamas can lick my sweaty balls."

"I'm not posh, I've just had a decent education."

"Fuck. I really need some breakfast cereal. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes make me come alive."

"A brontosaurus could kill a stegasaurus... easily."

"Mummy, if there was a crash and I rescued you, would you say thank you?"

How fresh! How fun! How real! I'll bet this guy will come out with a damn fine novel someday. That's because a good "ear" for dialogue comes from one thing, and one thing only: SPYING. Remember Harriet the Spy? A writer could learn a lot from emulating her notebook scrawling, her listening in on others, her general nosiness.

Here's something else in real life that will help you write better dialogue. Observe, and you'll see that I'm right. If two people already know each other's names, they rarely drop the other's name into the conversation. It's only done to highlight a point or to get the other person's attention.

So it should be with your characters.

Don't repeat in dialogue something that's already happened in the novel. This is known as "rehashing the hash" (I just made that up!) and should be avoided at all costs. Let's say in Chapter 7, Pam and Martha robbed a bank at gunpoint. Then should Chapter 8 be them sitting having coffee and discussing their exploits? Um... no. THAT would be rehashing the hash.

That's it from me. Next week, Part Two of Dialogue takes on dialogue tags, profanity (oh, shut the fuck up), and developing character via dialogue.

Have a great day, all!