That He Said, She Said Stuff

ImageThis week, I thought it would be interesting to bring up something that I myself have a hard time with: dialogue.

Dialogue is an essential escape from the interior elements of any work, so from time to time it just needs to happen. And regardless of where it pops up–poetry, flash fiction, or even a novel–every good writer should be hyper aware of how their dialogue appears to the reader.

Here are some bits of advice I have picked up over the past few years.


DISCLAIMER: if at times it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry–it’s because I don’t.

  • Read It Out Loud

    • In our last meeting, Cynthia reminded me that reading anything you write out loud is amazing practice–dialogue included. After you write the initial draft, have someone else read it out loud for you. You’ll be amazed at what you catch.

  • Shake It UpImage

    • These days there are many different ways of writing dialogue, so don’t feel tied to the traditional ‘he said,’ ‘she said,’ ‘he replied.’ In his Nobel Prize winning novel Blindness, Jose Saramago wrote long, dense paragraphs, filled with conversations between characters without any line breaks. Check out any of his stories to see how he approaches dialogue. But if you choose to go your own route too, remember to stay consistent. There’s nothing more confusing than dialogue that is both unusual and unpredictable.

  • Craft Your Voice

    • At the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference last summer, Stephen Chbosky, author of Perks of Being a Wallflower, spoke to a large audience about his work. When asked about writing dialogue, he responded–and I paraphrase–“each character has their own music, and after a while I felt like I was just riffing as I figured out their sound and wrote their voices.”


I will leave you with what I think is a great example of a new modern voice: ‘Julie and the Warlord’ by B.J. Novak, co-producer and writer for The Office. His new book of short short stories called One More Thing is at times hilariously satirical, at others surprisingly emotional, but still entirely immersive and wholly enjoyable.

Image

One story, titled ‘Julie and the Warlord,’ was on NPR’s This American Life. The characters of Julie and the Warlord are read by two different actors and Novak reads the narration himself. You can tell that his previous work screenwriting lends itself to the voice he crafts in these stories. Listen to it here.


 

How do you approach dialogue? Is there a certain way of writing dialogue that you always return to or does it change with each work you write? What are some challenges you face in writing dialogue and what are some things you do to overcome them?

 

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