Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are You Talkin' to Me? With Guest Blogger: Margaret West

Let's Talk about Dialogue Today with our Featured Book of The Month Author Margaret West!

Stay tuned for a chance to win a FREE book from Margaret!

Earlier this month, we met Margaret West during a fascinating Author Interview segment. If you didn't get a chance to check it out, click here to view.

Now, let's hear what she has to say about dialogue...

Writing Dialogue

If I could write a book on the amount of questions that I’ve been asked with regards to dialogue – it would be an epic!

Realistic dialogue doesn’t always come easily to everyone. But I can’t tell you how important it is. Dialogue advances a story and fleshes out the characters while providing a break from straight exposition. But, nothing pulls the reader out of a story faster than bad dialogue. It takes time to develop a good technique, but here’s a few guidelines I use that might help.

Listen to how people talk. Don’t become a stalker or anything, lol But eavesdrop and scribble down phrases you like. The right words can bring a character to life. Likewise, the wrong word/phrase can destroy the reader’s belief in the character.

For instance, it’s unlikely that a builder is going to use the word “goodness me” or that a solicitor would say “blimey." Dialogue should read like real speech. But, in saying that, real speech has words and sounds that would be distracting if included on a page. New writers sometimes think that including words like “uh” and “oh” makes their dialogue sound more realistic. The truth is, these kinds of extraneous words look unprofessional. Alfred Hitchcock once wrote that a good story was “life, with the dull parts taken out.” It’s good to keep this in mind.

Now comes the tricky part. Cut words and phrases out that don’t serve the conversation’s purpose. What I mean by that is, any dialogue should move the story forward while bringing your characters to life. If it doesn’t, cut it out altogether.

The mistake I noticed whilst I was an editor, was writers sometimes provide too much information at once through dialogue. It should never be obvious that you’re communicating information; otherwise you run the risk of info dumping. Give no character more than three uninterrupted sentences at once. You can trust the reader to remember details from earlier in the story. Make sure you break up dialogue with action, because physical details help to break up the words on the page.

Tag lines can be the bane of writers' lives to write and read. Don’t try too hard to vary them. Veering too much beyond “he said/she said” draws attention to the tags. Readers tend to skim over them anyway. If you write “interjected,” or “he sighed,” you’ve now drawn the reader out of the action you’re trying to create. If your dialogue is working, you won’t have to say any of these words in the tag line.

Most of all, the most important thing of all is to punctuate dialogue correctly. Nothing, to an editor/publisher/agent is more distracting than a writer who doesn’t know how to use punctuation. A polished MS is no good if it’s covered in punctuation errors.

A Note from the Book Boost: This is all excellent advice, Margaret. I'm sure all of us writers have made a few of these mistakes from time to time (I know I sure have--gulp). Thanks for sharing your pointers with us! How about an excerpt from your amazing book The Heart of a Warrior?


“What’s making you frown so deeply,” Yuma asked, jolting Belinda from her thoughts.

Belinda propped herself up on an elbow and stared at him. He was a handsome man, even weathered by the sun, his skin still held a silky, smoothness that she never tired of staring at.

Dark eyes, framed in long silky lashes, stared thoughtfully back at her as he traced the line of her jaw with his finger. “You’re so beautiful, Ayiana.” He pulled her head towards him and gently touched his lips to her forehead. He laid feather light kisses on her neck and cheeks, which
sent quivering sensations down her arms and thighs. The tips of her breasts tingled with anticipation as pinpoints of pleasure swirled, spread and compounded through every part of her body.

Yuma folded her into his arms and Belinda felt his desire instantly press against her, as he flipped her onto her back. His lips captured her mouth with a fervent urgency and hers parted, pulsing with the inflow of warm, sensual blood. When his warm hand cupped her breast
through her nightshirt she almost wished he would tear it from her. She needed to feel his naked skin against hers.

Want more?

Contest Time!

Want to win a FREE copy of Margaret's coffee break read, Two Faces One Life? Just visit Margaret's website to find the answer to this question...What are the names of the two main characters in this book?

We will draw a winner from all correct answers on FRIDAY and post the winner here on the blog in the Recent Winners box on the right hand side of the blog page. Good Luck!


Unknown said...

Hi Margaret, great advice about dialogue. Also about punctuation. I admit my punctuation isn't that swift. Thank goodness for critters that line my work for me.
Lovely post,
Kudos, and keep up the good work.

C.J.Gabriel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C.J.Gabriel said...

It's amazing how in real-life conversation can be about absolutely nothing and go nowhere and people don't seem to notice...when you write it in a book however, all conversation has to be relevant and "going somewhere" or you'll never hear the end of it!

Nice blog, Maragret! I can't wait to have you guest spot my "show"!



Cate Masters said...

Excellent post Margaret! The headline made me laugh. I try to avoid tags altogether if possible, in favor of an action that will reveal more about the character. Great excerpt too!

Linda Andrews said...

Very nice post on dialog and a smoking excerpt.

Margaret West said...

thanks for your comments everyone

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Margaret! Solid advice on dialogue. I'm with Cate on avoiding tags if I can. Another trick is to read it out loud. If you stumble, there might be something wrong.

Sign me up for the contest! I want to know all about Sarah and Ted!