I’ve found that good dialogue tells you not only what people are saying or how they’re communicating but it tells you a great deal – by dialect and tone, content and circumstance – about the quality of the character. -E. O. Wilson
I’m going to start this off by sharing a few details about me. In the second grade I got in trouble for talking too much. Apparently I had a lot to say and shared it with my classmates. This did not make my teacher, Mrs. Sorrells, very happy and so my mother was alerted and my precious Barbie dolls were taken away from me as punishment. It nearly killed me…seriously it did. Then in the 6th grade when I was twelve, I got to talking on the phone. My friends and I would talk for hours and I’m sure my mother’s nerves were frayed because what could we possibly have to talk about at twelve years old? We didn’t work, I had no boyfriend. All we had was school and the few clubs and activities we participated in. Moving on…For my 15th birthday, I was given my own phone number. This is probably closely related to my previously shared item. My mom had probably had enough and yes, the boys were starting to call when I actually gave them my real number sooooo, I got my own phone and own number and I was in heaven. I talked so much that my mom had to periodically remove the phone from my room so that I could get some of those necessary 8-10 hours of sleep required for a healthy, intelligent teenager. I still can recall my phone number and it rhymed with a popular song that was out at the time so when I was giving out my number to the lucky gentleman hopeful-caller, I would give my number to the melody. Corny I know, but they liked it. So why am I sharing all of this? Because things have changed so much and my lack of verbal communication makes a certain aspect of writing a challenge for me.
I hate to talk now. Matter of fact, I am so quiet most days that my coworkers often come to my office to check up on me citing they were worried about me because I was so quiet. If my phone is not ringing, I am not talking unless absolutely necessary. This doesn’t always work though. More times than I care to, I have to give in to actually communicate with people and get my point across. And not only that, I have some pretty important people in my life relying on me to talk to them every day- my husband and children. Anyone with children knows that they can talk ALL day long and what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t throw in some “Oh, really” and “What did you think of that”? It’s not really that bad because I do in fact listen all of the time but speaking, not so much.
So this is a challenge, why? Because my characters have to talk. In fact, there is no story, in my opinion, without my characters engaging with one another. And the best way to engage in a story is with action and in dialogue. I think it’s because I’m so quiet my characters come to me in pictures that move rather than with them chattering away. I see them and sometimes, I hear them but mostly they are moving and acting out. But who wants to read a book with me detailing my characters’ movements from pages 1 through 250?
One of the goals in my writing and one of the things I most enjoy about reading a good book, is for the reader to picture the story being shared. To actually see it in living color like one would if they were watching a movie. And if I were to write a book like I was describing, without any dialogue, my reader would see my characters moving around, carrying on in silence. The producer of this movie of mine would have to create some sort of bubble that hovers over their heads to share what they might be thinking. How would you like that movie? I know I wouldn’t. What would be the point? And what would be the point of my book?
So I’ve been working on this challenge of mine and hopefully making some improvements in not only having my characters engage, but in making sure that whatever they have to say actually lends itself to making the story move and having some value outside of moving lips. Lord knows I moved my lips enough in my younger years and now I’d prefer to make each word uttered, count.
Has dialogue ever been a challenge for you? What are some ways that you overcame it?