Thursday, September 9, 2010


I need to start thinking of better titles for these posts right about now. 

Nathan posted an interesting blog on dialogue today. As a writer, dialogue is what I struggle most to write. I always think that I'm not writing it as well as I could/should be. I'm paranoid about it coming across as realistic or stupid, in character or out of character. His blog covered everything from expository dialogue (and how to avoid it) to how we, as writers, need to cut all the boring things from our characters's speech.

And he's right.

When I first started to write, I explained everything through dialogue. Now, I only use dialogue when I need to. Some characters talk more than others do. One of my friends and I throw a mini "party" (really just us laughing at each other) whenever one of my characters speaks, because he's so quiet. Another of my characters will chat your ear off if you let him. Whenever I speak, I generally think about what I'm saying and how I want to say it beforehand, unless I'm talking to one of my friends. I rarely speak without thinking of how I'm saying something, so I'm hyper-aware of my own dialogue patterns.

How do you guys write dialogue? Do you speak the conversations out, or just let them flow? Do you use dialogue tags (Personally, I hate them, so I'm always on the edge of removing them too often) or do you use gestures and actions to convey what your character is saying and feeling? 

On that note, I read a really interesting discussion on Nathan's forums today about how to inject emotion into your character's actions and habits without resulting to the cliched sighs, eye-rolls, and chuckles. I don't think I've ever used an eye-roll in my writing, but I'm definitely guilty of chuckling. My characters chuckle way too often. I try to spice it up, but there's only so many times I can say something like "laughter bubbled from deep within his throat, his words dripping with jocularity" without banging my head into my screen.

Chuckling is so much easier.

What I realized through reading that discussion, though, was this: There's no way in hell that writers are ever going to be able to totally capture the realm of human emotion and how it manifests itself, no matter what words we use and how we use them. What matters is that we tweak, rather than attempt to reinvent, every emotion. One of my characters scratches the nape of his neck, pulls his hands over his face, or messes up his hair whenever he's exasperated or exhausted. 

For another, his mouth twitches whenever he's feeling a particularly strong emotion, and it doesn't matter what emotion it is.

Most of our communication is silent. How're we supposed to translate that into a written medium without gestures or dialogue? 


  1. Good post. I personally use way, way too many tags but I think that's because when I read I sometimes find it hard to keep up with who is saying what, especially if the writing for both characters sound the same. I prefer just enough, say one every other line.
    And writing dialogue that sounds real is a matter of perspective to whoever is reading it in my opinion.

  2. Now THAT is an amazing question. I completely agree with you about the chuckling thing. You can get creative with it but what's the point if all you really want to say is that he chuckled? People say that we overuse words like 'smiled' and 'laughed' and 'frowned' but really, what do people do in conversation other than smile and life and frown? I'm still trying to sort this problem out--maybe I'll do a blog post about it myself in a few days.