Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Dialogue by guest blogger Tiffany Amber Stockton

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning author, speaker, online marketing specialist, and a freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a toddler daughter, a baby boy on the way, and a vivacious Australian shepherd named Roxie. She has sold eleven books to Barbour Publishing with more on the horizon. Three of her novels have won annual reader’s choice awards and in 2009, she was voted #1 favorite new author for the Heartsong Presents book club. Read more about her at her web site.

Hi! My name is Tiffany Amber Stockton, but I publish under Amber Stockton. Ane invited me here to be a guest blogger in line with promoting my latest book release. Today, I’m here to share with you about one of the passions I have in writing:


When I first began writing, I used to think I’d be better suited to screenwriting, as it didn’t require so much description. Conversation has never been a problem for me. I’m outgoing and I love people. It’s fascinating to study the turns of phrase, the combination of words chosen, and the overall picture you get when you hear someone speak.

It didn’t take me long to realize I could blend my love of dialogue with the scene happening around the conversation for a total experience.

Writing realistic dialogue doesn’t come easily to everyone. Done well, dialogue advances the story and fleshes out the characters while providing a break from straight exposition. It’s one of the most powerful tools at a writer’s disposal.

But, nothing pulls the reader out of a story faster than bad dialogue. It takes time to develop a good ear. Take a look at the following tips and pitfalls. Knowing them and putting them to use can make a huge difference.

Character Conversations

Readers get to know your characters in five different ways: description, internal thoughts, dialogue, action, and reaction.

For dialogue, there are 5 key components you want to avoid:

1. Stilted language – where the character’s words don’t sound like natural speech.

2. Filler – a conversation that doesn’t move the story along or shed any light on your characters.

3. Exposition – having your characters wax philosophic on the plot issues or repeat something for the readers’ sake.

4. Naming – using the name of another character in the scene to identify them.

5. Overuse of dialogue tags – said, exclaimed, cried, mumbled, whispered, etc.

Each of these can kill your dialogue and bore your reader. Alfred Hitchcock once said a good story was "life, with the dull parts taken out." Keep this in mind when revising dialogue.

Now for the tips:

1. Observe real people and real conversations. Quite often, you discover some creative and fascinating dialogue by listening to how people in real life talk. Skip over the distracting parts or what detracts from the overall focus of the conversation and get to the meat. When you apply those styles to your characters, you’ll be surprised at how naturally they give away integral components of their personalities and lives.

2. Limit the interchanges to one thought per character per dialogue segment. If you try to jam too much into a piece of dialogue, you risk impeding the flow of your story. Now, if your character happens to be a rambler, then let that person go from thought to thought. But, otherwise, keep it simple.

3. Make certain there is a difference in style, pattern and word choice between your characters. Try reading a sequence of lines out loud. If you can’t tell your character apart by dialogue alone, your readers won’t be able to either.

4. Vary the dialogue with action. Too often, writers use too many dialogue tags, and the overuse of them will draw the reader out of the story. They draw attention to the tags, not the dialogue. Try using character or action tags to break up the stream of conversation. Describe gestures, facial expressions, movements, or even inner thought. These will offer amazing insight into a character’s thoughts and personality.

5. Let your characters talk to each other as if the reader weren’t there. When it feels like a character is talking directly to the reader, saying or explaining something simply for the reader’s sake, it’s stilted. Assume your reader is intelligent and will infer what’s necessary from the story. If you’ve done it right, you won’t have to explain anything, and the reader will be pulled along on the wave of the conversation in a smooth manner.

6. Do your research. Don’t use styles, words, grammar, and phrases that don’t fit with the setting or time period you’ve established. Get to know your characters well. Interview them to learn all about them. Know the language of the setting and get it right. But on the other hand, avoid stereotypes if possible. It will add authenticity to your story.

7. Watch your tone. Characters are just like people. You wouldn’t speak to a stranger in the same way you’d speak to a friend or loved one. Characters won’t either. Be careful with the attitudes conveyed through dialogue. You can show feelings for people when you use the right tone and words.

8. Throw in some subtext. People are curious creatures. They don’t often, and sometimes rarely, say what they mean. If you want your characters to come across as real and natural, they’ll do the same thing. If one character is angry over one thing, but doesn’t want the other character to know what it is, have him get angry about something else to cover up the truth. The anger is still there, but the other character doesn’t fully understand the reason for it.

9. Allow for the element of surprise. Have you ever read a story and been surprised by something a character says? This is an excellent way to keep the reader turning the pages. If your dialogue becomes too predictable, the reader will know where they conversation is headed. So, let your characters act out of character. Just make sure they have a legitimate reason for doing so, or your reader might get frustrated.

10. End the conversation well. Don’t leave your reader or your characters hanging at the end of a dialogue exchange.

This article is only meant to introduce you to some of the methods you can employ. Once you get into it and grasp the importance of real dialogue for real characters, you’ll be able to layer in many other facets that will bring your story to life.

Thanks for dropping by and sticking with me to the end. I can be reached through my web site. I’d love to hear from you.

Love Requires Change

Within the industrial boom during the turn of the twentieth century, three Michigan women react differently to their rapidly changing worlds. Felicity Chambers trades her society gowns for poor rags, swapping lifestyles with a sick woman in the factory district. But when she meets Brandt Lawson from the copper refinery, will her noble deed lead to heartache?

Annabelle Lawson takes food to the potato pickers in her father's field and meets William Berringer, a victim of the 1893 financial crash. Can they break through society's stigma when romance blooms?

Shannon Delaney's belief that industrial progress is doomed to fail is confirmed by the sinking of the "Titanic" and when Jacob Berringer's Model-T almost runs her down. Will Shannon be willing to embrace change and welcome love with it?

Can each woman find the faith and strength to weather their era and invite love into their hearts?


Michael Ehret said...

Good info, Tiff! One thing I always do is read all of my dialogue out loud. I've often thought it might be fun to have some friends read different parts, as if we were acting it out. But I admit, I've never had the guts to do that. But one of these days I might. Has anyone tried this for fun?

The Christian Writers Guild is having a great webinar tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Eastern with one of my fav instructors, James Scott Bell, called "Dazzling Dialogue." You know JSB will have great insight into this too!

Find out more here:

Ane Mulligan said...

The best thing that ever happened to me for dialogue was to write plays. I was drama director at our church, and I had a couple of professional actors in the troupe. Those guys would change some of my dialogue to more natural speech. I immediately rewrote what I'd written and learned so much from them. Eventually, I got so no one changed anything any more. I graduated! :)

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Hmm, acting out dialogue scenes with friends. Yes, that would take guts. Not sure I could do it either. But JSB is a dynamo teacher on writing. LOVE his books and his presentations.

And Ane, congrats on graduating. Writing plays and scripts sure does force you to have natural dialogue. It helps with the pacing and flow. Having professional actors critique and edit doesn't hurt either. :)