Saturday, February 14, 2009

The secret to great dialogue

Art, literature,
Dialogue by Doc Ross, Christchurch, New Zealand
Dialogue in fiction is not conversation. At least not the kind of conversation we have every day. Fictional dialogue always has a purpose. It must move the plot and be character revealing.

Many writers have difficulty with dialogue. Is there a secret? Yes: know your characters. You should know your characters as well as your best friend. Some writers create elaborate back stories, even if they never intend to use them. Others prefer to outline personality traits. I like to take long walks and have conversations with my characters. To get to know your characters, use whatever method feels right for you. Once you understand them, you'll soon discover that your characters speak with a consistent outlook and come across as real people. When you know your characters, all you do is put them into the right situation, give them something to accomplish, and then transcribe their conversation.

The following example is from my book, Leadville. The plot required me to move my characters to another location. This may not be a great literary example, but it illustrates how to make a mundane transition more interesting by letting the characters speak naturally.


Sharp and I stood outside the livery corral kicking our spurs into the dirt.
“Let’s get a ham steak,” Sharp said.
“Bit early for a noon meal.”
“Hell, McAllen went to see his ex-wife. No tellin’ how long he’ll be, and we might not see a hog for months.”
“You said something similar this morning when we ordered that glutinous breakfast.”
“True this morning, true now. If ya hadn’t hired them boys, you’d be hungry too.”
“What if McAllen shows up?”
Sharp leaned around the corner of the barn and yelled at the liveryman. “If a gruff gent comes lookin’ for us, tell ’im we’re at the café.” Sharp turned and gave me a pleased look.
“What if he comes before we finish our meal? You know McAllen.”
“Then we git up and head for the hills.”
“Could be a waste of money.”
“Might be right.” Sharp pushed himself away from the barn wall. “So you pay.”
And off he went.

Western fiction action adventure
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters

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