Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to write great dialogue

Writing great dialogue is something a few people seem to be able to do naturally. The rest of us have to work at it. Yesterday I was trying to figure out how to teach this elusive art for my Monday evening class. I came to the conclusion that there are several parts to the process.

The first part is learning to listen. Just as it is possible to develop a writers' eye - to notice the telling detail from the world around us so we can use it in our descriptions -we can also develop a writers' ear. Not something you can easily do in a classroom. It takes daily practice in the wide world.

Then there is the art of writing in one voice. You can practice this by choosing a character with a distinctive voice and writing as if that person is dictating to you. Perhaps a description. Perhaps an account of events.

Third comes the art of putting different voices together and discovering how they respond to each other. Those slight but telling illogicalities of real dialogue. The fact that people do not spell things out entirely, because the situation makes what they are talking about apparent. The way questions are not answered and each person in a conversation has their own agenda.

Fourth is the merely technical box of tricks that enable you to construct a dialogue on the page, so it is clear to the reader who is speaking and in what way and what is happening around them.

In the end is it just practice. That's what I am doing. Practicing.

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