Sunday, October 3, 2010

thoughts on writing dialogue

a mistake that writers sometimes make is to believe that dialogue and conversation are analogous. in other words, if this were an SAT question, it might look something like this:

Conversation is to people as Dialogue is to characters.

i think this analogy is wrong, but i think it speaks to why writers – especially novice writers – can feel dialogue is somehow “difficult.” it’s not enough to say that dialogue and conversation aren’t quite the same thing. dialogue and conversation are as different as a flower from a farm implement.

for me, the relationship between conversation and dialogue is more like that between poetry and language in general. or, in other words:

Dialogue is to conversation as Poetry is to language.

as i have come to understand dialogue, it's the deliberate distillation of conversation into an artificial form with the purpose of evoking meaning and feeling in a reader. poetry attempts to do the same thing with the language as a whole. poetry, too, is a distillation of the language into an artificial form with the purpose of evoking meaning and feeling.

dialogue should be used by a writer to do two things: reveal character and move plot. if a line of dialogue is not doing one or the other, or even possibly both… i get rid of it. so the next time you find yourself evaluating a snippet of dialogue, whether yours or anyone else's, ask yourself - does it reveal character or move the plot? if it doesn't, consider if it really needs to be there.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

3 comments:

Willow Silverhorse said...

I absolutely love these little tips you give. They're a great help. Keep em coming!

annie kelleher said...

thanks!!! i appreciate your commnets :)

Walk in the Woods said...

Very cool - even though I don't write.