A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES


A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Sometimes I think I should write screenplays instead of novels. Screenplays are mostly dialogue, and dialogue is my favorite part of writing. You can learn a lot about dialogue by watching movies: flow, tension, emotions. The main difference between it and a book is that the audience can see who’s speaking and their reactions, which help convey the emotion of the scene. In a book, you don’t have that luxury. You convey emotion through tags and action beats. And stories are all about emotion.

Here’s an exercise for you: take a piece of dialogue from a movie and write it as if it was in a book by adding tags and action beats. Write so that a person who hasn’t seen the movie can get the emotion of the scene.

Advertisements

Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

 

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

A Conversation With Your Characters


Outtakes 372

 

 

A Conversation With Your Characters

By Cait Collins

 

 I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to get to know my characters is to talk with them.  I mean have real talks with them.  These conversations give me insight and allow me to create more believable dialogue.  For example, Dalton heard from his friend Kate that her former boyfriend abandoned her when he learned she was pregnant by her rapist.  She returned to her hometown to bury her grandmother and there was no possible way to avoid running into him.  He’s the town’s doctor and it is a small town.  After a violent encounter with her rapist, she has to allow her former beau to treat her injuries.  Daltons was not happy.  Our conversation went something like this.

 Cait:“She’s over him, you know.  I mean she really resents having to accept his help.  She’d prefer to kick him out.”

 Dalton: “I know.  He’ll hurt her again.  He dumped her.”

Cait:They lied to him. King, your mother, his mother.  They let him believe she’d gone with him willingly.”

 Dalton: “He told Kate he loved her.  A man doesn’t abandon someone he loves.”

 Cait:“You wouldn’t.  When you love, you give your heart and your soul.  Truth is you love Kate.  You’ve loved her for fifteen years, and even now that she’s a widow, you shield her from your feelings. That’s a bit cowardly.”

 Dalton: “I’m not a coward.  I’m giving her space to mourn.”

“So are you”re just going to sit here and let him work his way back into her life.  He’s almost as good looking as you.  As you said, she’s mourning.  Jon’s death hit her hard.  She’ll need someone to lead her through the tough days.

 I vanish from the scene.  Dalton is waiting on the front porch for word on Kate’s injuries.  When the doctor comes out to talk to him, Dalton looks up, snorts and returns to the report he’s been studying.

“I’m Doctor Mike.  I know you’re Katie’s friend but she didn’t tell me your name.”

 Dalton doesn’t acknowledge the man.

 Mike:“I sorry, but what do I call you.  I prefer to have a name when I discuss a patient’s injuries with the friends and loved ones.” 

 Dalton: “I’m Pissed.”

 Mike: “Well, Mr. Pissed, …

Trust me; Dalton remained Mr. Pissed until he realized that Kate and Mike were having problems with their friendship.  And if they couldn’t be friends, how could they be lovers.

 

Dialogue Tags


Dialogue Tags

Natalie Bright

Dialogue is spoken communication between characters. The purpose of a tag line is to let your reader know which character is speaking.

Most commonly used dialogue tags:

Said

Asked

Yelled

Hollered

Whispered

As a reader, we hardly notice the tag lines. “He/she said” is boring, and our eyes are used to reading said. We want to know what’s between the quotation marks.

Seriously, can a person “screech” or “Sigh” or “acknowledge” words? Can you “laugh” a sentence? Instead use descriptive words to create motion or response in your characters. Over use of anything besides “said” can be annoying. Think of how you can use narrative in place of tag lines.

One of the best resources for an explanation of dialogue is the book WRITING REALISTIC DIALOGUE AND FLASH FICTION by Harvey Stanbrough. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your writing reference library.

Here’s an example from Mr. Stanbrough’s book:

She approached him cautiously. “Come on now, Baby,” she cooed. “You don’t want that knife. What are you going to do with that?”

He swung the knife in a wild arc. “I just can’t stand it anymore!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had it?”

If you read the same passage above out loud omitting the tag lines, it reads the same. In fact, we might even say that the tag lines of cooed and exclaimed are somewhat annoying. You could add a he said or she said if you want, but the action and narrative helps us know who is talking. The imagery is still the same no matter what tag lines you use.

Happy writing and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

natalie

SAY WHAT?


SAY WHAT?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Characters are supposed to sound different from each other, but if your readers have to reread the dialect to understand what’s being said, you’ve taken them out of the story. But how can you write a dialect and still make it readable?

One way is shown in Sharon Ewell Foster’s novel, Ain’t No River. In this example, Garvin, a female lawyer in Washington, D.C., is having a conversation with Miz Maizie, a janitor, in the ladies’ restroom:

“You let me know, now. I’ll call for some help.” The “I’ll” sounded more like “Iya” and the “help” sounded more like “hep.”

“No, Miz Maizie, I’m still above rim.”

“You know, Garvin, I heard of lots of little children—” Garvin heard chirren—”falling into them old-fashioned outhouses, and you ain’t too much bigger than they were.”

Foster does not spell out what the words sound like in the dialogue. Instead, she describes how certain words sound to Garvin. Otherwise, she uses word placement to convey Miz Maizie’s southern dialect, and this technique continues throughout the book. This way makes the dialogue easier to read while still maintaining its uniqueness.

The People Speak – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

How many of you readers out there never talk to yourselves? You never have a running conversation in your head, never ask yourself questions, never tell yourself your opinion, never remind yourself of your to-do list? 

The inside of my head sometimes sounds like a throng of voices. I don’t mean, like, hearing voices telling me to do bad things, as in schizophrenia or psychosis. I mean it’s like the two sides of my brain talking to each other, so much so that I need to listen to music with lyrics while I work my day job, just to keep the creative side out of the analytical side’s business.

Our characters, who we want our readers to believe are real people, are exactly the same. They have inner thoughts the same as we do. And these inner thoughts can be very important to our story. It can tell us more about the character, it can move the story along, it can even be a fantastic vehicle for flashbacks and important back story. 

There are some types of story where inner dialogue is critical. I read a story once about a woman with a mental syndrome causing her problems. She desperately wanted to heal from that, so she took a trip in order to come to terms with this. The problem I had with the story was there was very little inner dialogue to show her healing, her metamorphosis. The author didn’t set the problem up very well as far as symptoms in the beginning, and suddenly, at the end, she was well. I didn’t feel like had made that emotional journey with her.

Another thing to remember when using inner dialogue is to keep your character’s voice, speech, personality, and view of the world intact. If your character has a secret side to them, that’s wonderful, but give us a clue to this secret in their outside layers. Then, with the inner dialogue, you can let it out flamboyantly. But always remember their view of the world.

Back to Liane Moriarty. In Big Little Lies, one of the main characters has this secret side to herself. She’s seems a little scatter-brained on the outside, a little, like, “whatever . . .” But through her inner dialogue, we learn she is guarding a terrible secret that she doesn’t know how to handle. For excellent examples of all kinds of dialogue, read Big Little Lies. 

Dialect


Dialect

by Adam Huddleston

The literary term this week is: dialect.  This word is simply defined as the pronunciation, grammar, and spelling of a particular people.  Dialect is one facet that separates groups of people from one another.  Using dialect effectively increases the level of characterization and leads to more enjoyment by the reader.  

Many authors have used regional dialects well.  The first author that comes to my mind is Mark Twain.  If you’ve ever read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you can almost feel Southern speech dripping off the page.  My favorite author, Stephen King, uses speech patterns and phrases often heard in the northern New England states.   

One word of advice: if you give a character a specific dialect, be cautious that it is one generally understood by your audience and not what you think it sounds like.  For example, some may believe that all Southerners use the term “ain’t” or drop the “g” off of the ending of words.  Many do, but don’t fall into the trap of stereotyping.

Hopefully, the proper use of dialect will flesh out your characters.  Happy writing!

Let Your Words Speak


Outtakes 371

Let Your Words Speak

By Cait Collins

 

Imagine a novel or short story that has no dialogue.  No verbal interaction between the characters to move the action. Dialogue is action.  It provides emotion and insight into the needs and desires of the players.  Writing dialogue can be the hardest writing, but it can be the most rewarding.  Choose your words carefully.  Avoid trite phrases.  Write in an active voice and eliminate as many helping verbs as possible. Allow your words to direct the emotion so that exclamation marks are not necessary.

Dialogue tags are needed to avoid confusion as to who is speaking, but write so that the reader doesn’t need stage directions such as shouted, banged, slapped, slammed, cried, and so forth.  Allow the dialogue to set the scene and create the mood.  For example:

“You chose to end our marriage.  “I accept your decision, but I’ll always wonder if we could have salvaged the relationship.”

“Are you trying to make me feel guilty, Mark?”

“No. That would be impossible.  A person with no soul feels no guilt or remorse.” Mark put on his glasses and began reading the newspaper.  “Have a nice life, Beth. I just hope the next sap you target gets a better deal. “Goodbye and don’t forget to leave your keys.”

The door bell chimed.  Mark looked toward the glass door.

“On second thought, forget the keys.  The locksmith’s here.”

Revealing Dialogue


Revealing Dialogue

Rory C. Keel

 

Dialogue is a way to reveal a character without a narrative description. As in real life, when a person opens their mouth and speaks, they show us what kind of person they really are. An effective dialogue will use words that portray the mind, heart, and personality of the characters that are speaking. In dialogue, the conversation will drive the story forward and reveal to the reader motive, concern, and reasoning of the story characters.

WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO


WHAT DIALOGUE CAN DO

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Look at this section of dialogue from Brian Jacques’ The Legend of Luke,part of the Redwallanimal fantasy series. How many characters are speaking? What can you learn about them and the plot? I’ve removed the tags and numbered the lines for reference.

 

  1. “Et be a gurt pity, ‘cos we’m be orfully near ee seashores. Oi cudd feel et in moi diggen claws.”
  2. “But we can’t go any farther now.”
  3. “…Cheer up, pretty one, or you’ll have it rainin’. Leave it to me, I’ve got a plan!”
  4. “You’m got ee plan, zurr?
  5. “Why d’ye think they call me Prince of Mousethieves? Of course, I’ve got a plan, you ole tunnel-grubber!”
  6. “I hope ’tis a plan that’ll work, matey?”
  7. “Oh indeed, an’ did you ever know any o’ my plans that didn’t work, O swinger of swords?”
  8. “Aye, lots of them, O pincher of pies!”
  9. “Well, this won’t be one of that sort, O noble whiskers!”
  10. “It had better not be, O pot-bellied soup-swigger. Now tell on.”

Dialogue has two purposes: to advance the plot and show characterization. The above passage does both. How many characters did you count? There are four. Dinny speaks lines 1 and 4; Trimp, 2; Gonff, 3, 5, 7, and 9; and Martin, 6, 8, and 10.

What did you learn about the characters? Dinny seems a little slow by the speech pattern and is equipped for digging tunnels. (He’s a mole.) Trimp is beautiful. Gonff is an overconfident, plump mouse who steals pies. Martin knows how to use a sword and has whiskers. (He’s also a mouse). Martin and Gonff are good friends.

What’s going on? The characters are going to the seashore, but something has prevented them from continuing their journey which requires a plan to overcome. (They must travel through a wood filled with savage killers.) Do they make it? You’ll have to read the book.

Here’s an exercise for you. Look at the dialogue passages in your favorite novels, block out the tag lines, and see what you can learn from them.