Writing as a Virtue: How to Write Dialogue.

3 11 2010

“Writing as a virtue.”  What is that supposed to mean?

According to Plato, a virtuous man is a man of moderation.  Bravery lacked fear, but was not reckless in the face of danger.  Thus, courage was found somewhere between cowardice and foolishness.  Also, an honest man did not lie, but he didn’t batter his friends down with needlessly brutal truths.  In both of these examples we should see a pattern form, and that pattern was the bases of one of Plato’s views on life:  That a virtue is a mean between two extremes.

Whether you agree with the famous Greek in his philosophies or not, we writers can learn a lot from this simple concept.  Virtue is a mean between two extremes.

For the next three weeks I’ll be looking at a different, important aspect of writing each week.  Starting this week:  Dialogue.


Dialogue as a Virtue

Here are four things to keep in mind while writing dialogue.

1. Perfect vs. Casual Grammer & Slang — Ever watched a movie and realized that everyone spoke perfectly, without any of our daily stuttering or common “Uh”s?  There’s a reason for that.  It’s so you don’t lose the audience in the midst of conversation.  Your reader (and/or watcher) needs a clear and concise dialogue to follow with ease.  Just make sure that your characters aren’t too perfect.  They still need to have different commonly used words, phrases, and eccentricities just like the rest of us.  (And be sure to limit the slang.  It throws people off, yo.)  TIP:  Watch some movies.  Even if you’re not interested in getting into the movie business, take notes on the script dialogue and the pacing of words in the movie itself.  Authors will have a different road ahead than scriptwriters, but both can still learn loads from each other.

2. Curt vs. Long-winded Conversation — I have trouble with this one.  I love to spin words.  I love all of the different words I can use to say the same thing, describe the same picture, the same scene.  But unless you’re trying to create a boring, long winded character in the vein of a Eugene Levy role, you need to keep things–again–short, concise, easy for your reader to follow.  The problem I have with this is going to far the other way and creating dialogue made up of only sentence fragments.  Don’t do this.  You need to have balance, otherwise your audience is going to feel like the story is flying by to fast, or sluggishly dragging its feet to the end.  TIP:  Listen and study to the conversations of your friends and family and note mentally–or physically, if possible–the way they describe objects and situations.  Interviews are also a great place to study for your dialogue toolbox.

3. Sterile vs. Various Description — Very similar to the point above, except for (if your writing a book) you need to make your “narration” of the conversation as balanced as the dialogue itself.  The best written dialogue is dialogue you forget you’re reading.  Go ahead and let your readers know you’re the narrator of the story.  But when your characters are talking, let them do the talkingTIP:  Delete as many words as possible outside of the characters’ conversation.  Leave in only neccessary tags to help keep things clear and concise, as well the character actions that help propell the story along.

4. Simple vs. Creative “Tagging” — Tagging is one of the most important aspects of dialogue.  But without a little creativity you get a long list of, “he said, she said, he said, she said.”  And that’s not good reading.  So don’t be afraid to add in the occasional “she yelled”, because–like any good spice–a dash of flavor goes a long way.  TIP:  Study best-selling authors, especially those known for character development.  J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman, for instance.  Also, don’t be afraid to step outside of the box with good authors who are often swept under the bigger names, like John Flanagan and Derek Landy.




One response

24 11 2010

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