Friday, August 15, 2014

Dialogue: Asset or Liability?

I recently reviewed a book, Inca's Death Cave by Bradford G. Wheler. I loved the plot. The author had done a lot of research on technology and how it could be used in archaeology. The setting in Peru was beautifully described, and the plot was interesting. These were pluses. However, the dialogue almost made me put the book down.

The mistakes in the dialogue were the ones everyone warns beginning writers about. Every time the main characters had a conversation they used their first names. People don't talk this way. They may use a first name in greeting someone, or in adding emphasis to a statement. They do not constantly refer to each other by name. It isn't necessary and it becomes tedious to read. It also makes the dialogue sound stilted.

The second mistake the author made was using conversation as a data dump. In the early chapters of the book, the female character gives long dissertations on the technology. The author does it in the guise of explaining technical areas to a novice, but it quickly becomes wearing. There is no give and take. If the explanations were necessary, and in this case they were, description could be used effectively at least part of the time.

Dialogue is not the easiest thing for most people to write. Even experienced authors have some character come off sounding stilted. The best advice I've heard about how to correct this problem is to listen to people. If eavesdropping on conversations seems too intrusive watch good movies, or there are places like the library of congress where native speakers have been recorded. If you listen to them enough you will get the speech patterns, and your dialog will sound natural.

One of the best ways to draw a reader into your world is a conversation. Readers get caught up in the exchange between characters if it's well done. Another plus is that dialogue sentences are typically short, at least they should be. This means lots of white space on the page. Readers like to see white space. It doesn't look so daunting.

Writing dialog may not come naturally to you, but if you work at it, it will pay dividends with your readers and reviewers.

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