Monday, January 31, 2011

Dialogue Tools

I came across an article recently about dialogue in writing. The 7 Tools of Dialogue by James Scott Bell was interesting, so I thought I would use his seven tools in a particular spot in my WIP#1.

Then I realized that what I really ought to do is post my first chapter on it's own page on my blog, then start tearing it apart piece by piece using every tool I could find until I finally have it ready. I'm still not sure about doing this, but the more I think about it the more I seem to talk myself into doing so. I'm still chewing this idea over, for now.

In the meantime here are Bell's seven tools along with seven of my own tools for dialogue.

1. Let It Flow - Mainly all this step means is -> Get It Written Already! You can't do anything with dialogue until you have it written. I mean how on Earth can you complete any other step if you don't have it on paper, or on the computer as my case is.

2. Act It Out - Literally act out what you have just written. See if it sounds and feels plausible. If it doesn't fix it.

3. Sidestep The Obvious - I took this step to mean -> Don't be boring! Make the reader want to read the rest of the conversation. If you lose the reader, you don't have any guarantee they'll be back for more and that's what we want them to do - come back for more.

4. Cultivate Silence - Use silence as a way to create tension or other moods. Silence speaks volumes! I can think of one place in my book that could greatly benefit from this step. Now I just need to find it and fix it.

5. Polish A Gem - Or as I like to say, Make It Sparkle. Throw some glitter on that conversation and make the conversation and important sparkling gem the reader will remember.

6. Employ Confrontation - As writers we generally know what has happened in the past to our characters. Rather than insert a boring paragraph explaining that a character has a shady past have that character get into an argument with another character. Place the necessary information in that argument to pain a bigger, better picture of the character and situation.

7. Drop Words - De-Clutter the thing! I think this step is similar to sidestep the obvious in a way, but still different. In school we are taught to restate questions in our answers, but we don't really need to in real life conversations. Think about it a minute. If I asked, "How's your day?" you are not going to reply, "My day has been going okay." Instead you might just simply say, "Okay." You get the picture. Drop the unnecessary words.

I also thought of a few other dialogue tools that could be used as well.

8. Facial Expressions - I have read this in many a book. Where the character looks at another character in some way or another. This little tidbit also helps the reader to get a better idea of what is going on in the characters mind. Especially if the story is told from Character A's perspective only and character B makes a face while having a discussion with Character A. It gives the reader a quick glimpse into the other characters world.

9. Tension - I've noticed that a particularly tense conversation between characters tends to propel the plot along and usually gets characters into a frenzy where more information gets into the readers hands. I love this tactic for propelling a plot. I also enjoy writing them.

10. Foreshadowing - This is one that I think I need help in. I have noticed it being used in books all the time. I'm convinced that I need to add it into the story during the editing process simply because of my writing process. I sometimes don't know exactly where I am going, so adding it too soon in the writing process is problematic for me. I still notice it in other writers works and would love to get a better handle on this aspect.

11. Personalization - In my story the protagonist is named Tess. But her friends don't all call her Tess. One particular character always calls her T. Each individual in my story has their own way of talking, their own choice words they use a lot. If every character in the book talked the exact same way and used the exact same speech, then all of the characters would be flat. Who would want to read that? Not I.

12. Tone - This one is simple - or is it? The choice of words or setting helps to set the tone of the book. I'm still working on this one. It depends on what book I'm writing to how I want the tone set, but I use a lot more than just dialogue for this one. I think everything plays into creating a tone. Having a character clip their words can set the tone. Adding a period after each word a character utters in a sentence can set the tone that they are fuming mad.

13. Genre Dialogue - I ran across this in a book and had no idea genre dialogue even existed. But, alas it does. I mostly write and read young adult novels. Teens speak differently than adults do. Even adults speak differently based on what they do. The adult books that I do read are mostly paranormal and I've noticed that the characters are usual strong, so they use strong speech when talking to others. I never really gave much thought to this, but I realize that I do use it in my own writing. I love learning new things and then realizing that I already knew this I just hadn't realized that I knew it.

14. In Media Res - My favorite dialogue tool by far. I need to cut back on the use of this one though. This is basically where you start a scene in the middle of a conversation. I really think it makes a better opening. Just don't over use it!

Are there any other tools for dialogue that you can come up with or have run across? I know there are more out there.


  1. Greatrules for dialog! I always have to declutter because I have them say things like, "Well," or "But" and it's totally unnecessary.

    Great blog! :)

  2. Thanks so much Aubrie.

    For some reason I seem to have issues writing dialog. I either feel it's too much, not enough, or forced. That's one reason I did this blog. Kind of a reminder of the tools out there.