Friday, August 29, 2014

Teaching Yourself to Write Better Dialogue: Three Steps That Will Make All the Difference

When one of my advanced students wanted to sharpen his dialogue, I gave him the task of modeling from a favorite book.  His dialogue improved dramatically in just weeks.  

Tuning the ear, and the creative brain, to the rhythms of written dialogue makes all the difference.

Here's a variation on that exercise, perfect for travel, vacations, and car listening.  You'll need a favorite book on CD or downloadable audio.  Two exceptional titles for listening and learning:  The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich and Nora Ephron's memoir I Remember Nothing. 



1.  Spend 30 minutes listening to a chapter or two.  Pay attention to the pauses, called "beats," between sentences and when the writer interrupts the dialogue to add gesture, movement, a setting cue, a sensory detail. 

2.  In the next section, listen beyond the dialogue rhythm for the undercurrent. of meaning, also called subtext.  Subtext is what's not being said, what reveals the character and conflict. 

3.  As you listen further, find moments of dialogue where there is a "reveal":  something real or factual or truthful is presented, without subtext.  This doesn't happen very often in the beginning, so you may have to wait until further into the book.  Not where it occurs within a scene, a chapter, or the book as a whole.  How does it change things?