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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Guest Blog: Stephanie Burkhart: Dialogue Dilemmas

Writing dialogue can be fun, but a challenge. Dialogue must do several things well to be effective, so I thought I'd share some tips and ideas on writing romantic dialogue.

#1 – Dialogue should sound authentic, but not reflect real life too closely.

In real life people greet each other with:
"Hello, Bob."
"Hi, Sue. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay. You?"
"I have a little headache."

Dull and boring, huh? Try to strip as much of these exchanges that you can from your dialogue. Get to the heart of the matter by passing over pleasantries. Rule of thumb: Stay away from pointless chit chat.

#2 – Dialogue should move the plot forward, but not be an info dump.

When you use dialogue, reveal a little about your character, but don't go into a monologue that reads like an info dump.
"Lord Varga does not like garlic," said Lazlo.
Amelia arched an eyebrow. "I didn't know. Why?"
"It makes him sick."
"How interesting. Garlic is known for it's healing properties."
Lazlo pursed his lips.

#3 – Should I cuss?

Try not to, but remember there are times when it is necessary. If your characters gets their finger caught in a door, and the pain is immediate, he's going to cuss. Don't, however, liter your character's dialogue with cuss words. It makes your character unromantic and unsympathetic. It's more acceptable to write "he swore" than a cuss word.
"David took the money."
"What did he do with it?"
"I think he blew it on cigarettes."
Sam swore. That was all the money he had.

#4 – Dialogue shows passion.

Ah, pillow talk. Flirting banter. Promises of seduction. All these types of dialogue "show" romance. And don't forget to use dialogue during your love scenes. Let your characters be playful. Show them flirting. Depending on the hero, if he's talkative, then being intimate with the heroine might be a time where he's quiet and more reflective.
"I didn't get a chance to tell you last night so I'll tell you now – I love you."
"Most assuredly."

#5 – Avoid dialect in dialogue.

Why? Quite honestly, most authors can't do it well and readers who don't "get it" might find it a bit stilted.

#6 – You are what you speak.

The words characters say reveal who they are so make them shine. Are they educated? Young? Friendly? What do they value?
"Old lady Jenning's pig ran away again."
"Did you find him?"
"Sure did – down by the river."
"Did you return the pig?"
"I sure did. She said she appreciated my honesty."

#7 – Dialogue shows suspense.

The lack of dialogue or reluctance to talk may heighten the suspense.
"Do you know what she wanted?"
"What was what?"

Question: I'd love to hear your tips for writing dialogue. Feel free to share!

Stephanie Burkhart is a 911 dispatcher for LAPD. She loves coffee, adores chocolate, and is a proud mom of a cub scout and boy scout. She's published with Victory Tales Press, 4RV Publishing, and Desert Breeze Publishing. She loves to walk and is walking in a 5K to support Alzheimer's in September. Her steampunk series, "The Windsor Diaries" is an award winning series. Book 1 is "Victorian Scoundrel."

It's 2011 and compressed natural gas has taken over from the coal producing steam machines of the Victorian Age. Alice Windsor, Princess of York, follows her mischief-making cousin, Edmund of Wales, back to 1851 where Prince Albert is hosting Britain's Great Exhibition.

Alice soon finds herself over her head in trouble. Edmund is determined to help Prince Albert build a dirigible and the prime minister appears intent in preventing her from stopping Edmund. Alice knows it's too early for the massive flying machine to take to the air. Complicating matters is the passionate Grayson Kentfield, Earl of Swinton. Alice can't stop her pulse from pounding when she's near him.

Can Alice give her heart to a man from the past while working to stop Edmund from changing history?

Victorian Scoundrel is print and as an ebook.


Tina Donahue said...

Great post - everything you've written about dialogue is so true. I can't stand when there are characters in historical novels that speak in heavy dialects (think cockney) and pages upon pages are filled with strange dialect. Gives me a headache trying to wade through it. I know the author's trying to be accurate, but I tend to skim those parts.

Sandy said...

I agree with you on everything on dialogue, Steph. Some people have a natural nack for fast-paced dialogue, but beginning writers usually have a problem.

Your story sounds great.

Melissa Keir said...

I think that we should add about the tags (said, etc). These should be used sparingly. I can't stand the he said, she said on each line. It draws me out of the story. :)

Wonderful post! Thanks for stopping by!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks for the dialogue tips. I agree with everything you've said. I find it helpful to read dialogue out loud to see if it sounds "real" and fits the characters.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Tina, I have to agree - too much of an accent can slow down my reading.

Sandy, thanks for stopping by. I think dialogue is an acquired skill. You need to keep practicing, but it will come.

Melissa, Yes, the "he said/she said" always pulls me out of a story. I really do try to use them sparingly.

Cara, that's a great tip that I might have forgotten to mention - it really helps if you read the dialogue out loud. It give the writer a feel for the flow within the context of the story.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post. I use to hate writing dialogue, but after I got the hang of it I love it. Here is a tip. I sometimes identify the speaker in the body of dialogue. Here is an example from my current WIP. A SF Comedy about Buck, a navy Vet who makes a living as an ice cream vender. He is hired by a group of aliens to go with them as an ambassador from Earth and introduce ice cream to their universe.
“Excuse me, my name is Buck and I’m the Ambassador from Earth.”
She stands and once we exchange the traditional greeting. I place the ice cream container on the table in front of her. She sits back down and stares at the container. “So what is this you are giving me?” She asks in a husky voice.
“Gen Chiller I am happy to present you with a special sample of ice cream. It is a sixteen ounce serving, of three different flavors swirled into one.” I open the container and hand her a spoon. “You have three of the most popular flavors on Earth. The dark brown is chocolate, the red is strawberry, and the white is vanilla.”
I hope this shows you another way to do ID tags.
G W Pickle

Karen Michelle Nutt said...


Great advice. Enjoyed the post. And I love your tales!

I personally like the different dialects as long as they aren't overly done. :) Diana Gabaldon's work is a great example. Can't get enough of her writing.

Fran Lee said...

Thanks for the wonderful post! I enjoyed it very much.

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