All of these come alive, of course, with examples. So next week (or in my class at Book Passage on Saturday), examples will follow. Also, please post your own 100 words of dialog (including description, action and gesture, of course), below and I will edit/ comment on it. Or you may just share it for fun–or to let people know about your latest book–or for the joy of being alive . . .
7 Key Principles of Dialog
- Dialog is a wonderful place for quirky, unexpected language and phrases.
- Dialog is about rhythm. Beats are created by the externals of action, gesture and descriptions of setting as noticed by the narrator or main POV. Beats can also be created by internal thoughts and feelings. Finally, beats can be created by simple tags (he said, she said). Read your dialog aloud to find where you are inserting beats that are not on the page or inserting emotion that is not on the page, or tone, expression, action and gesture. Now put it on the page.
- Dialog pacing: Move actions and dialog around so that your reader can see and hear the characters at the same time, and so that the longer blocks of dialog get broken up a bit. If your reader is just hearing a character but not seeing her for a long time, said reader can float out of the room . . .
- Beats and dialog: BEAT to switch gear as the dialog does—action, reaction, gesture, something. Think about the speaker’s motivation in each phrase or sentence, and if you switch motivation, mark the beat with some visual cue.
- Dangling threads in dialog: Don’t feel the need to “wrap up” threads in dialog (or anywhere else). The reader picks up on the thread and follows it, even as another thread tangles in and we follow that one, too. The dangling end is more intriguing than the wrapped up end.
- Cross-talk and cross-purposes: Likewise, characters, like other people, rarely respond directly to each other. Each has his or her own agenda, own motivation. Follow that. Similarly, allow for sudden u-turns and surprises. We often have a great deal going on in our heads, so that we come out with our next line miles away from our last without any verbal stage directions. No? All that jump-cutting and cross-purposes really strengthen dialog.
- Cut throat-clearing and directions in dialog: Cut any throat-clearing or “directions” to the reader about the flow of the conversation that are currently happening in your dialog. Put them into action or gesture—what cues do the characters give each other.
Anything you want to add? And don’t forget to post your bit of dialog below: