Difficult Dialogues

The spoken word is kind of critical; it gives us an insight to the kind of person we are dealing with. The way the words are put together.

This has been a major criteria for me when and where to put in the dialogue

How much of the narrative should be in conversation.

How do I put it so that the dialogue does not sound like reporting?

Dialogue as defined by Merriam-Webster is  a written composition in which two or more characters are represented as conversing. A conversation between two or more people exchange of ideas and opinions.  The conversational element of literary or dramatic composition. A musical composition for two or more parts suggestive of a conversation.

Whatever the technicality of writing a dialogue as reader the dialogue made the story seem real. It also gave me image of the person. If I looked at the dialogues that got my attention it

It sounded real, some authors could even get the vernacular or dialects out and they did not ramble before getting to the point unless of course the character was a rambler.

I didn’t like unnatural exposition, where unnecessary information gets dumped masking the relevant ones.

It is always fun to try and track implications and hidden meanings. Particularly in whodunits.  Example

“have you heard from  Shantanu?” Jyothi asked.

She shook her head,” my brother and I don’t speak much”

“not even after…?”

“specially not then”

Jyothi reflected softly,”all those people’

“have you finished running the reports”she asked.

To me the understanding of a brother and something unpleasant happening there and abrupt change of subject was intriguing.

I consider some stuff like the “she said,” “he replied” as clutches as the toastmaster’s ah-counter would point. I am told that in the language of dialogue writing they are called dialogue tags and emerging authors are asked to be vigilant about them. I liked Shobha De’s article where she proclaims that she is frustrated trying to write the Marathi word, ”a.agha ” eventually used parallel phonetics to match.

It makes it more interesting to me when instead of “she said”  “he said” going ping-pong one of them gets translated into an action, for example

“Have you heard from Ram’ Jyothi asked,

Ravi shook his head, “I haven’t to spoken to Ram in ages”

As I look at the authors I like, I realized the when dialogue is answered with when the dialogue can do double or even triple duty, after all every conversation is not worthy of recording. It tells me about the character, it takes the story ahead.

I realized when I read an Agatha Christie or a PG Wodehouse, I really hear the character, and they have a voice with a pitch and pace. It creates a background and demographics; it tells me the mood of the character.

As we really did not discuss much at the retreat, I went back to dear faithful Wren and Martin of course some more contemporary writers. I discovered there were dialogue writing rules for a conversation!!

This was not sacrosanct but giving the character voice made the character believable. It would give insights and motivation to the character. Here are 7 tips that are worth eavesdropping.

Getting punctuations right was a major criterion.

  • The open and close speech marks set dialogues apart from the narration that it resides in. If a dialogue tag is used then a comma has to precede “he said” or “she said” and not a full stop. The tag is still part of the same sentence.
  • When a character’s speech is interrupted by a dialogue or tag, action close and re-opens speech marks commas go inside the quoted speech just before the closing quotation mark and just before the speech marks re-open. Look at this example. “I wish you would stop interrupting,” she said, holding up her palm, “and let me finish!”

Start a new paragraph when a different character starts speaking, this gives clarity when the scene involves more than two characters.

  • If a character has lengthy monologue, such as retelling an event or story then the close quotation mark needs to use used at the end of the final paragraph, this prevents the reader from assuming that a new character started talking.

The dialogue tags have to be kept minimum. It would be great to establish who is speaking and how they speak without dialogues, it would require using body language and gestures. As a result the dialogue becomes vivid; it allows the reader to see the character mid-conversation in addition to hearing them

Fillers have to cut out mercilessly. Even though they are life like… a lot of mundane day to day conversation has to be cut as people would not want to eavesdrop on them.

Nuggets of information need to be handed out in a dialogue. After meandering with dialogues, I realized the essence would be

  • What do I want my dialogue to tell the readers about my characters personalities?
  • What do I want my dialogue to tell the readers about my character’s situation
  • What are probably expectations or questions would the reader have about the story based on this dialogue

Answering these questions of course would create a powerful dialogue, though how effective it is I do not know.  But one thing I realize which is important is create

Authors like Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse showed us what was going around our characters while they talk, like the girl in sciapialli dress who was immersed in boyfriend, and the couple next to them where the blonde escort was bored with her Latin guest, Bertie Wooster and Florence Caye studying the environment at a shady nightclub Mr. Wodehouse describes the fish in the next couple’s table!

In real life there times, when we do not say the truth, or do not use words to communicate, there are authors who use descriptive body gestures to communicate.

“How are you today?” Roger asked,

Maria shrugged, with a faint smile, which did not disclose her anguish. The shrug is chink, so that she did not vocalize.

“I cannot have Mr. Templeton arrested now, Mrs. Templeton would never forgive me” said Poirot. This kind of dialogue holds a great fascination for me, and I had promised myself I shall use it if ever I were to write a story. The sentence at fundamental level talks about an action in the present, as the story moves forward the sentence takes an entire different hue.

One distinction that has always kept me foxed was the difference between a conversation and a dialogue. I am told though they are often used as synonyms; strictly speaking a dialogue is a discussion, while a conversation is used in the sense of exchange of ideas.

At The Himalayan Writing Retreat, Mr.Chetan Mahajan suggested that a novel writer’s community might be a good place to get insights on work-ability of dialogues, and insights on how to better them.

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