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Write the world prompt dialogue dexterity

Dialogue Dexterity



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As a reader, it’s easy to take dialogue for granted. The conversation between characters can flow in and out of the narrative so seamlessly that we hardly notice. But when dialogue seems effortless, it means the writer has been busy behind the scenes! Just one line can capture a character’s voice, his rhythm of speech, his thoughts or emotions, and how he interacts with others. Add to that line a fragment of description, and we see the character’s tics and habits, and perhaps even something about his lifestyle or values, and the setting in which the scene takes place.
 
So dialogue can do quite a lot to bring characters to life in a story, novel, memoir, or even a personal essay. But when overused, a conversation can feel tiresome. In everyday life, after all, only a fraction of what we say to each other is of any interest. So a writer must decide which lines of dialogue should be spoken, and which summarized, condensing the scene to contain only what’s most important. In the passage below—from the memoir The Glass Castle—take note of what Janette Walls leaves in as dialogue vs. what she summarizes (in bold), and how often Walls inserts lines of description (underlined). Notice how in this scene, in which Walls confronts her judgment about her mother’s chosen lifestyle, only half of the lines are actual dialogue:
 
She waved enthusiastically when she saw me. "It's my baby girl!" she called out. I kissed her cheek. Mom had dumped all the plastic packets of soy sauce and duck sauce and hot-and-spicy mustard from the table into her purse. Now she emptied a wooden bowl of dried noodles into it as well. "A little snack for later on," she explained.
We ordered. Mom chose the Seafood Delight. "You know how I love my seafood," she said.
She started talking about Picasso. She'd seen a retrospective of his work and decided he was hugely overrated. All the cubist stuff was gimmicky, as far as she was concerned. He hadn't really done anything worthwhile after his Rose Period.
"I'm worried about you," I said. "Tell me what I can do to help."
Her smile faded. "What makes you think I need your help?"
"I'm not rich," I said. "But I have some money. Tell me what it is you need."
She thought for a moment. "I could use an electrolysis treatment."
"Be serious."
"I am serious. If a woman looks good, she feels good."
"Come on, Mom." I felt my shoulders tightening up, the way they invariably did during these conversations. "I'm talking about something that could help you change your life, make it better."
"You want to help me change my life?" Mom asked. "I'm fine. You're the one who needs help. Your values are all confused."
 
Now it’s your turn, dear writers. Write your own passage of dialogue, but make sure the scene also contains description of character and place and that you summarize the parts of the conversation that don’t need to be spoken word for word. Kanksha_Chawla shows us how it's done with her piece, "Spaces".
 
TECHNICAL POINTS:
 
1.      Punctuate dialogue correctly! Punctuation falls inside the quotes when it is part of the dialogue, but outside if it applies to the whole sentence.
Example from The Glass Castle:
"I'm worried about you," I said. "Tell me what I can do to help."
Her smile faded. "What makes you think I need your help?"
"I'm not rich," I said. "But I have some money. Tell me what it is you need."
 
2.     Use ‘said’ or ‘asked’ 98 percent of the time. They are nearly invisible to the reader, which means they don’t distract from the scene. (vs. other verbs such as ‘yelled’, ‘cried’, ‘pestered’, ‘begged’, ‘challenged’, etc.)
 
3.     Use exclamation points sparingly—the tone of the dialogue should be clear from what is said, rather than relying on punctuation. Refrain from using all caps.
 
4.    You do not need to use ‘he said’ or ‘she asked’ in every line of dialogue. Gestures, description, or the previous line of speech often make the speaker clear to the reader.
 
5.     Use the same paragraph for dialogue and gesture when they involve the same character. Begin a new paragraph when a new character speaks or gestures.