The Art of Dialog

For a writer, nailing dialog can be an uphill battle.  When you’re writing fiction, in particular; responsible for the entire creation of your characters…down to their habits and quirks and, yes, the way they speak…constructing believable and consistent dialog can be really tough.

I’m not exactly talking about punctuation and grammar…let’s assume a writer has those things down pat.  What I’m referring to is finding a way to create conversation between characters that flows like real life conversation–including the pauses, dialectical nuances and sometimes even using slang that convinces your reader(s) that: 1) you know what you’re doing as a writer, and 2) your characters are believable enough that your reader doesn’t have that nasty little voice in her head saying, “no one would ever say something like that.  That’s ridiculous!”

Most importantly, dialog–if done poorly–can kill a book in a matter of minutes.  Who wants to read a story that’s full of 1950s dialog style:

“Hello, Mary,” said Jane.

“Hello, Jane,” said Mary.

“That’s a darling blouse you have on,” said Jane.

“Why, thank you, Jane.  It’s so lovely of you to notice,” said Mary.

I write about all of this because yes, once again, I have been inspired by one of my children!  (And also, having just completed the first draft of a new novel–a book written in the first person, and narrated by a seventeen-year-old boy–I am entrenched in trying to get dialog “just right.”)

The other morning Ellie, now 5 1/2, was preparing for a play date with her best friend, Claire.  The play date–a princess tea party, of course–was set for 2:30 in the afternoon.  Ellie was getting herself all ready for the big event at 8:30 in the morning.

Having selected the “perfect” princess dress to wear, set the little kids’ table with plastic plates, paper cups, and an array of plastic food from her little kitchen set (don’t get me started on the whole plastic thing.  Believe me–every time I get rid of a bunch of plastic toys, another batch comes our way via well-meaning friends and family for birthdays, holidays, etc.) she discovered an old telephone receiver that has since become a play phone–and got Claire on the line.

“Hello, Claire?” (long pause)
“This is Ellie.”  (long pause)
“Yes, me too!” (long pause)
“Oh you are?  You’re going to wear your Sleeping Beauty dress?”  (pause) “And your Sleeping Beauty shoes, too?” (longer pause)  “Me too!  I’m going to wear MY Sleeping Beauty outfit!  We’ll be twins!”  (long pause)
“Uh, huh.” (pause)
“Ok.” (pause)
“What did you say, Claire?  I couldn’t hear you, Landon is being too loud…Landon!  Be quiet, I’m on the phone with Claire!!!”
So…you get the picture.  (by the way, I’m sorry for all the italics, here.  My computer is slowly dieing and things like this are beginning to happen, like not being able to turn off the damned italics!)
But as I listened to my daughter conduct her pretend–but very well pretended–telephone conversation with her best friend, it occurred to me:  Had I not known the telephone was for play, I would have totally and completely believed she was having a real-live conversation with someone other than herself!  She nailed the dialog PERFECTLY.  (Of course, once I got over being totally and thoroughly impressed with my daughter’s obvious skill and talent…I had a minor panic attack; realizing what I was really witnessing was a prelude to the teenage years when the telephone will surely be stuck to her ear on a fairly permanent basis.  Good God, I am not ready for that!)


Filed under Kids, Writing and Publishing

3 responses to “The Art of Dialog

  1. I’m sure she gets it from her writer mother.

    The other day, my daughter (six) was sitting with me on the front porch and we were looking at the stars. (I live just south of Los Angeles so by stars, I mean there were like four). She said, “Tonight’s sky is blacker than the deepest crayon in the box.”

    The funny thing was that she just said it, like it was almost a sigh. They are so amazing, aren’t they?

  2. If only more parents would stop and really listen to what their kids are saying…there’s more than enough inspiration there for a lifetime supply of writing material!

  3. Isn’t it amazing how much they imitate their surroundings? How many times has she heard the one sided conversations that her mom has on the phone? It never ceases to amaze me the power of our children’s brain to learn what is “common” to the rest of us, and just like that they’re little people.

    I don’t know if girls are still “phone-a-holic’s” with the advent of the cell phone, people are choosing to text and instant message as their medium of choice.. that’s what freaks me out even more, because you can’t “hear” what they’re talking about.
    *shutters* Ahh the joys of parenthood 🙂

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