Dialogue is one of the most important parts of a story, and yet is easily overlooked. Before I began taking writing seriously years back, I used to assume writing dialogue was easy. I mean, how hard could it be? We use dialogue every day as we communicate with other people. I should instantly have a knack for it, right?
Wrong. Oh so wrong, Rawls. It might be easy to whip up things for characters to say, but to whip up dialogue that adds meaning to the story and moves the plot forward, as well as adding insight into who the characters are…well, that is far from easy.
Great dialogue adds something special to the story. It makes it shine, stand out, serve a purpose that goes beyond mere words.
“You can write the sharpest, most glittering, wisest, poetic, hilariously dazzling dialogue, but if that dialogue doesn’t do its true work and open the dramatic world underneath, it’s dead on arrival.” John Guare
“The truth is that a tight and snappy dialogue exchange can often do the work of several pages of prose.” Donald Maass, Writing 21st Century Fiction
So how do you go about mastering the art of dialogue like a pro? Practice is the obvious answer. But what exactly is it that you should practice?
This week, I came across an article on Writing Geekery: Advanced Techniques and Insights for Jaw-dropping Dialogue that lists some of the best advice for writing dialogue I’ve come across online. I encourage you to read through it. MJ Bush did an amazing job with the topic, and she managed to explain it in a way that’s simple and easy to follow. She suggests that the best dialogue does three key things: Feed the larger story, intrigue the reader, and surprise the reader in new ways. She then goes into further detail about how we can master those three keys in our story dialogue.
Just reading about how to write great dialogue is only the first part, though. Afterwards, you’ve got to put what you learn into practice, and there’s no easy way to go about it. Just roll up your sleeves and dive into work! Writing short fiction is a good way to start.
While working on my dastardly behemoth novel Strayborn, I’ve been writing short stories and novellas on the side. Practicing your writing skills on short stories is a faster, easier-to-digest way of honing things like dialogue, plot, character arc, and so on. When I look back at my writing of just four years ago, I’m shocked by how much I’ve changed and grown as a writer, and I know the majority of it was by putting into practice what I learned in short stories.
How often do you write short stories? Is writing dialogue easy for you, or something you’re working on? What are your thoughts on Writing Geekery’s article?
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