Dialog

I just got a rather nice compliment from JadedDave who can also be found at The Jen and Dave Show. He said:

“I think you handled the exchange between believers and non-believers very well.”

That was regarding my podcast novel Archangel and the dialog that takes place in episode sixteen. It made me feel all warm and junk. But seriously, I know that in a lot of Christian fiction there are issues when you get a believer and non-believer in the same room. It seems like many authors have never heard a non-believer speak before. It actually happens in the opposite direction too, when you get someone who isn’t a Christian trying to write “Christian-y” dialog. It really all gets back to making it all “natural” and that’s true regardless of who’s talking.

For me dialog has always been something I struggled with/fretted over. Just keeping it real enough to pass without making it so stilted or awkward (as real life conversations can be) as to make it unreadable/unlistenable is a tough balance to strike. I feel that podcasting has really helped that since by reading it out loud I hear how it sounds. I also find myself really listening to conversations around me and sort of mentally recording the rhythms and word choices. Doing this without looking like a stalker/eavesdropper is hard but it’s worth whatever risk there is. It should be noted that I put the word natural in quotes up there because I don’t think any writer can (and perhaps no writer should even if they could) make any dialog truly natural.

Another thing I struggle with, that’s been brought to my attention, is my choice of figures of speech. I’ve been in the rural south most of my life and I’m certain this comes out in much of what I write. If I were just writing stories that take place in that setting this might not be such a big deal. As it is, I’m not. So it’s just one more thing to keep a weather eye out there for.

What helps your dialog writing? What do you struggle with?

11 thoughts on “Dialog”

  1. I love writing dialog and creating a realistic exchange that helps further the character development without too much tagging. One of the most helpful dialog writing tips, for me personally, is people watching. Sitting in a coffee shop, restaurant, bus station, wherever, and just listening to people converse is so useful for a writer looking to get a handle on their dialog skills because you really hear how people stop, interrupt each other, linger on thoughts, etc. Great stuff, Scott.

  2. Thanks for talking about this and I'm going to have to take a listen to your Chap 16 to get an idea for when this becomes an issue in Guardians. Any hints on how you maintained that balance? What was the thought process for your characters?

  3. I love writing dialog and creating a realistic exchange that helps further the character development without too much tagging. One of the most helpful dialog writing tips, for me personally, is people watching. Sitting in a coffee shop, restaurant, bus station, wherever, and just listening to people converse is so useful for a writer looking to get a handle on their dialog skills because you really hear how people stop, interrupt each other, linger on thoughts, etc. Great stuff, Scott.

  4. For me I guess it gets down to knowing and regularly conversing with people with a variety of beliefs. I have friends and family just about everywhere on the spiritual spectrum. I also strive to remember that my characters are people. Even if they aren't real there are people out there who (I hope) would identify with at least one of them and I try and respect that person. Does that make sense/answer your questions?How goes writing Guardians?

  5. Thanks for talking about this and I’m going to have to take a listen to your Chap 16 to get an idea for when this becomes an issue in Guardians. Any hints on how you maintained that balance? What was the thought process for your characters?

    1. For me I guess it gets down to knowing and regularly conversing with people with a variety of beliefs. I have friends and family just about everywhere on the spiritual spectrum. I also strive to remember that my characters are people. Even if they aren’t real there are people out there who (I hope) would identify with at least one of them and I try and respect that person. Does that make sense/answer your questions?

      How goes writing Guardians?

  6. I love writing dialog. When it's between my own characters there's a real conversation going on in my head. What helps me is to see each response from that character's POV, so it's a constant gear switching going on in my head between however many characters I have in one scene. Two is pretty comfortable and I can keep that up for a while. I was on an RPG board once where I had almost a dozen characters in one big scene and that was mentally exhausting.I also find the more you travel and visit other cultures helps make your dialog sound more natural. I have a flair for picking up languages and local “color”, I absorb it like a sponge. There's nothing I like better than people watching, listening to the way people talk, how they react, the gestures and facial expressions they make. In a way it's like sketching with words.Every so often when I'm at my favorite outdoor coffee shop or out anywhere that people gather, I find myself listening to the conversation, taking notes in my head on a unique turn of a phrase or a witty comeback. Sooner or later, I'll use it somewhere.

  7. I love writing dialog. When it's between my own characters there's a real conversation going on in my head. What helps me is to see each response from that character's POV, so it's a constant gear switching going on in my head between however many characters I have in one scene. Two is pretty comfortable and I can keep that up for a while. I was on an RPG board once where I had almost a dozen characters in one big scene and that was mentally exhausting.I also find the more you travel and visit other cultures helps make your dialog sound more natural. I have a flair for picking up languages and local “color”, I absorb it like a sponge. There's nothing I like better than people watching, listening to the way people talk, how they react, the gestures and facial expressions they make. In a way it's like sketching with words.Every so often when I'm at my favorite outdoor coffee shop or out anywhere that people gather, I find myself listening to the conversation, taking notes in my head on a unique turn of a phrase or a witty comeback. Sooner or later, I'll use it somewhere.

  8. I love writing dialog. When it’s between my own characters there’s a real conversation going on in my head. What helps me is to see each response from that character’s POV, so it’s a constant gear switching going on in my head between however many characters I have in one scene. Two is pretty comfortable and I can keep that up for a while. I was on an RPG board once where I had almost a dozen characters in one big scene and that was mentally exhausting.

    I also find the more you travel and visit other cultures helps make your dialog sound more natural. I have a flair for picking up languages and local “color”, I absorb it like a sponge. There’s nothing I like better than people watching, listening to the way people talk, how they react, the gestures and facial expressions they make. In a way it’s like sketching with words.

    Every so often when I’m at my favorite outdoor coffee shop or out anywhere that people gather, I find myself listening to the conversation, taking notes in my head on a unique turn of a phrase or a witty comeback. Sooner or later, I’ll use it somewhere.

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