Bakers Dozen: Creative Writing Workbook (Chapter 6, page 1 of 3)

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Chapter 6

Dialogue is what your characters say. Dialogue is especially hard to write in fiction for several reasons.

First, it has to sound real but not be real.

Second, dialogue must be used for specific purposes. If it does not move the plot forward, reveal character personalities, and/or give essential background information it should not be included.

Third, dialogue must be written out in correct grammatical form. Written in incorrect grammatical form, dialogue is hard to read and to understand.

To discover the difference between real conversation and real-sounding conversation, do the following listening exercises.

A. Sit quietly and listen to a group of your friends speaking. Just listen unless you are asked something directly. Notice the number of times your friends use such empty phrases as uh, ah, you know. You do not use these when you write dialogue for a story.

How many times do you hear "and so"? or "like" or slang expressions. These kinds of expressions are not used unless you want your character to say them -- in other words, these are a part of your character's personality. Be careful with this. Use only enough of these types of expressions to get the flavor of the character's personality. Too many will bore your reader. Also, see how many times your friends get interrupted or the subject gets changed into something different. What about repeating them? Do they talk at the same time? Prepare a short evaluation of what you hear. You do not write a lot of these interrupters and fillers in fiction. You do not use a lot of chitchat. You get to the point.

Here is an example of a conversation that takes too long to get to the point.

"Hey, John, how's it going?"

"Not great."

"Beautiful weather today, isn't it?"

"I haven't noticed."

"What do you think about those Bulls?"

"I don't care about the Bulls, but I would like to punch you right in the eye."

By the time the reader gets to that last line, he or she doesn't care. The last line should be the first or second thing said.

"Hi, John. How's it going?"

"Shut up, Sam. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't punch you in the eye right now."

B. With your instructor's permission, record a lecture/group discussion in class.

Listen to it for ways not to write dialogue.

C. Now, transcribe 15-20 lines from a move or television show. (Do not use soap operas that are notorious for dragging the story line out way further than it needs to be.

Identify each line of dialogue from each character with an AP if it advances plot, RC if it reveals character, RB if it reveals background, or NE if it seems non-essential.)

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