Writing Tips #2: Good Dialogue. Bad Dialogue.

Hi there

Welcome to my free weekly writing tips and prompts. Thanks for subscribing. I hope you find these useful. This week is all about writing good dialogue. ‘Good luck,’ said Shukla.

WRITING TIP: HOW TO WRITE GOOD DIALOGUE. HOW TO WRITE BAD DIALOGUE.

Dialogue is hard to get right. It’s also imperative you get it right. Dialogue should move the plot forward, tell us about the characters and feel true to how people actually talk, all at the same time, all without showing the reader we’re doing any of these things.

GOOD DIALOGUE: Should be written like it’s spoken. So read it out aloud to yourself. Do the characters’ voices feel distinctive? Can you tell them apart? Do they just all sound like you, the author? Are you using you are instead of you’re? Is this the moment the character needs to say you are, not you’re for emphasis? It needs to read like it’s been said. So read it aloud to yourself.

BAD DIALOGUE: Is exposition. It conveys information. Often information the characters already know. Just to ensure the reader is keeping up. ‘Listen, Jonny, we have to get to the house before the serial killer does because he has our keys, from when you dropped them in the abandoned quarry.’ You can do the same thing with, ‘Hurry up, Jonny.’

GOOD DIALOGUE: Says what the characters are thinking without saying what they’re actually thinking. Would a character say, ‘I need you’ in this moment? Would they say, ‘can you get the next train?’ What’s not said is often the most interesting thing. What’s said in the pauses, in the things we do instead of talking, the things we say instead of what we’re really thinking.

BAD DIALOGUE: Reminds readers of relationships unnecessarily. ‘Bob, you’re my husband, you should know where the coffee pot is.’ ‘Barbara, as my sister, you need to phone mum’. Yeuch.

GOOD DIALOGUE: Is conflict! Drama! Arguments! Questions unanswered! Emotions left unsaid! Details purposefully omitted! This is what will drive your plot forward.

BAD DIALOGUE: Is just you stating your opinion, in the characters’ voices, about various social and political and religious themes and ideas. It’s padding, it’s pontificating, it’s not readable.

WRITING PROMPT: THINGS UNSAID

Write a scene (max two pages) between two people. A wants to tell B ‘I love you’. B wants to end things with A. Think about what they would actually say and how they would say it. What are they doing? What actions mask speech? What is the text? What is the subtext? What is left unsaid? Do they both get to say what’s on their mind? Only one of them? Create conflict for them. Drama. Just don’t let them say how they feel!

MY WRITING LIFE

A few months ago, I got to meet my favourite writer. And it was a reminder that you should never ever meet your heroes. This is THE writer for me. The one who is a constant inspiration. The one who inspired me to write my first novel. The one who inspires me to try different things to push my fiction. The one who I come back to time and again. We were both going to be at a literary festival on the same day and so I sent him a message saying I’d buy him a drink. He replied in the positive and I freaked out. Why had I put myself out there like this?

On the day itself, I walked into the green room and there he was, standing, talking to a friend of mine. He beamed at me and I headed over. Overcome at the sight of him, I pushed aside the hand he offered for shaking and gave him the biggest hug someone can give their hero.

‘Oh,’ he said, as I slipped my hands around his back. ‘You’re a hugger.’

I wanted to bloody die. Never ever hug your heroes. Ever.

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Keep going.

Nikesh 

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