Talk Your Way Out of a Jam!

ACFW Advice, Authors and writing, Dialogue, Friends of ACFW, writing Leave a Comment

By Bonnie S. Calhoun

Have you heard novelists say their story was bogged down by inactivity, or that they felt lost in a long drawn out narrative? Well never fear! I have a totally sharp solution…conversation. Write out the narrative and then make it a conversation between two or more people.

That’s write (right). Dialogue is considered to be an action element. It can move any plodding exposé into the realm of frantic excitement, or sweet rest. It can also be used as a vehicle for back story, that evil animal that tries to rear its ugly head and derail the momentum of your beloved tomb.

Alright…I don’t mean to be so dramatic, but this is literally the function of dialogue. It allows you to maintain the action, and keep readers awake. (I’ve never found anyone who could sleep through a dialogue…unless it was a husband being told what chores were on the honey-do list.)
The trick to writing effective dialogue is to write the way people speak. This covers a bunch of the dialogue rules. If you need to, tape a conversation between you and another. Rules start with…

1. Don’t keep using the person’s name in the conversation, especially if it is someone you know well.

2. People having a conversation do not use perfect grammar (unless you’re an English butler), and most of the time you can get away with leaving the “g” off the end of “ing” words…not every single word, but that’s another mechanism of realism.

3. Use contractions, as people do in normal speech. Most people will not say ‘do not’ unless it’s a specific emphasis with the NOT capitalized. The word would normally be ‘don’t’.

4. Leave out the “yawn” moments. Have every drop of conversation move the story forward and don’t play with small talk…unless there’s a specific reason, then note in an internal thought the reason for the snooze moment.

5. Don’t repeat what you are revealing in the narrative, in an additional conversation. Example…It had been a long, hot day. Dan was going to the store for Coca Cola. “I’m going to the store to buy Coca Cola.”

6. Use italics, adjectives, and adverbs sparingly. Ly words should be the bane of your existence. And I’m not saying ‘never’, I’m just saying sparingly. Look at your ‘ly’ words and see if there is a much more eloquent way of stating it, rather than using a single cheap word.

And as far as italics go, they seem to have fallen out of vogue. I once saw a book where there was a literally a WHOLE PAGE of italicized narrative. It about drove me to distraction. Needless to say I didn’t get past that page.

7. Use dialogue tags sparingly, and opt for using action beats to change the tempo.

So this is a down and dirty short version of a lesson in dialogue. Remember…dialogue is your friend!

Bonnie headshotBonnie S. Calhoun is Owner/Director of Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, owner/publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Northeast Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and the ACFW 2011 Mentor of the Year.

She lives in the woods of upstate New York with her husband, dog, and two cats.

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