Dialogue: Once Mortal Enemy, Now New Best Friend
So, there I was, aspiring novelist, universally rejected by a broad swathe of people all in agreement about one thing; my work was unpublishable.
And, there I was, trundling along inside the Lawrence Street bus one gloomy February morning, with slush abounding and a palette of gray and brown surrounding.
The only highlight of my journey was an award-winning poet I had befriended, a then-dreadlocked fellow who taught English by day and wove mystical imagery by night.
“Read my story,” I implored him, thrusting pages at him just as I was about to disembark. “Please, I need help, I really need help. See you tomorrow!”
I waved and rushed off, wondering if I should take an alternate route to work the following day so as to avoid the uneasy encounter of him having to tell me my work was unsalvageable.
But no… there I was again, the following day, with the slush and brown still abounding and me, wondering what the poet had to say.
“Not bad,” he said. “But you could use some dialogue. You don’t have any dialogue at all.”
Dialogue? Oh the horror. Anything but dialogue!
“Oh… Well, thanks anyway.”
And off I went, thinking so much for my ever becoming a published author.
But later that night I forced myself to try a bit of dialogue, and I felt much the same dread as I did when facing math homework; that I was about to set sail in waters of unfathomable blackness, with all kinds of nasty beasts teeming below, ready to rip me limb from limb.
An hour later, after an awkward and stumbling start, I had to admit something; I was actually enjoying myself! I could say anything I liked! I could sport the lingo of my wildest fantasies and not only that, I realized that dialogue was really helpful; it was an excellent way of getting the message across to the reader; dialogue painted a wide range of pictures in a way that internal narrative never could – and it gave actual voice to all the voices in my head!
I’ve always felt chameleon like in this world; I’ve adapted in a variety of countries and situations and writing dialogue is much the same – you simply meld your colors into those of your character, slip into his shoes, pull on his jacket, open your mouth and talk.
Well, perhaps ‘simply’ is over-stating the ease of the whole process… and there are certain potholes that I fell into over and over again – for example, starting a sentence with “So,” or “Well,” or any of the other grim fillers that have no place existing on a printed page.
And there is a danger of those favourite words creeping in or worse still, you up a tip that a character is easily identifiable if they have a key word or phrase they repeat and the next thing you know, your character is leaning upon some wooden phraseological crutch that sounds forces and nasty and makes your reader cringe as they set your book aside.
I wouldn’t say dialogue is an easy road to travel but it is a fun one, and a necessary one and, while I am mixing metaphors with horrifying abandon, let me add that dialogue is like salt, you don’t need a lot, just a sprinkling here and there and it will make all the difference to the flavour of your dish.
Dialogue also brings readings to life. When I read at bookclubs or events, I try to choose passages with lots of dialogue because it really brings the character and story to life. The inflection of the story changes and the whole thing comes alive whereas reams of text can become monotonous. Imagine you are listening to a reading and make note of where you’d like some dialogue – just about where you starting wondering how long the author is going to read for; that’s where you need dialogue.
Here’s one EXAMPLE where I thought dialogue worked particularly effectively in my writing.
I feel that the dialogue plays a vital role in the convincing the reader of the creepy awfulness of what happened.
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