Reviewing the Rules of Writing Good Dialogue

 

Readers love to read a novel full of dialogue. Often they have no idea that, as writers, we have rules we must follow to keep the dialogue interesting. Every sentence in a novel must move the story forward. This keeps reader’s interest whether it is a fiction story, a devotional, or an article about keeping aphids off rose bushes.

Let’s pull back the curtain on an author as she creates her compelling story.

Don’t repeat the question or person’s name when giving an answer. Example:

George: “Lucy? Do you want to go to the movies with me?”

Lucy “Yes, George, I’d love to go to the movies with you.” (Sounds like the utterances of a robot.)

Readers may not even notice when a skilled writer gives an oblique reply.

George: “Do you want to go to the movies with me?”

Lucy: “It depends. What’s playing and when did you have in mind? I have a very busy social life, you know. (Aha! We’ve moved the goalpost on the story. Lucy may have another suitor.)

We don’t use conversation to impart information. (Example)

George: “So? You’ll go with me if you aren’t too busy?”

Lucy: I have a date with Tom next Saturday night. You know, Tom–my mother’s second cousin’s nephew by marriage? He’s a troubled guy, votes Democrat, but he has a charming personality.”

We don’t use meaningless chit-chat in dialogue. Every conversation should have a purpose, give a clue to something yet to come in the story, or suggest a potential conflict. Example:

George: “You’re going out with Tom? I thought he was in jail for murder.”

Lucy: “He’s out now. He was falsely accused. Now he’s receiving death threats against him or anyone associated with him.”

George: “Really, Lucy?” George raises his eyebrow. “Is it wise to date a guy like that?”

Don’t use conversation to impart lengthy bits of back story. Example:

George: “You should be dating me, not Tom. Don’t you realize that I was the one who saved your mother from a burning building that she had purposely set that night when she was despondent over her divorce, and then she learned that she was my father’s long-lost twin sister, separated at birth by their evil stepmother?”

Lucy: Gasp! “I’ve been away at college way too long. Good grief. Does that make us cousins?”

George: “Maybe kissing-cousins. So is it a date?”

Lucy: “As long as they haven’t arrested me yet for killing my college roommate, who recently died under questionable circumstances when she was smothered in her sleep.”

Review: Each sentence delivers new information.

Give oblique answers to a question.

Don’t use the person’s name in your response.

Don’t use conversation to impart lengthy back story.

Don’t repeat the question just asked. The goal is to keep the reader turning pages!

Wow! Writing a book isn’t as easy as you thought, right? I had to keep all these things straight while writing a compelling event that hooks the reader on page one, an exciting middle, and a satisfying and thrilling conclusion. But, it was easy for Mrs. Odboddy to be the prime suspect in a burglary, involved with a counterfeit ring, lose the war bond money, meet a tiger and still win at the end. Mrs. Odboddy – And Then There was a Tiger will keep the reader turning pages and looking backward to the previous Mrs. O books, or forward to Mrs. Odboddy’s Desperate Doings. Join Mrs. Odboddy on this rollicking adventure as she tackles adversity in this hysterical romp at the Newbury Harvest Fair, even as she fights the war from the home front during WWII.

A Short Short Love Story

As though carved in ivory, she stood ankle deep in the pool, peering into the murky pond. She tipped her head gracefully, the back of her long neck pale and white beneath the afternoon sun.

He stared, entranced by her beauty. He came often to the park to rest in the shade beneath the trees, to bask in the sun or visit with friends, but, never had he seen such a lovely creature as he beheld that late autumn day. Afraid to move for fear she might disappear, he stood, immobile, his gaze roaming across her soft, supple body. He gasped, realizing that he had ceased to breathe.

Each day for a week, he returned to the pond, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Each time, his heart surged when he found her standing motionless and lovely, ankle deep in the pool. She filled his thoughts by day and his dreams at night.

Compelled to declare his love to anyone who would listen, he spoke often of her to his friends and to his mother. She tried to dissuade him from his purpose. “Forget this foolishness, my dear son. Such a union between you is not possible. The differences are too great.”

He turned a deaf ear to her wisdom, believing that one day his love might conquer their differences and that she might return his love.

Winter turned to spring. Cherry blossoms bloomed pink and white. Children laughed and robins sang. Little boys ran through the grass. The red and green triangles of kites filled the pale blue sky.

Each day he paced beside the pond, watching his beloved, but never finding the courage to speak. He felt unworthy. What had he to offer?

He sat on the grassy shore, adoring her from a distance, fearing any declaration of love might frighten her away. The afternoon sun warmed his back and its rays reflected off her snow-white head as she gazed into the pond, seemingly intent only on the unimagined thing she sought beneath the water. What so held her attention and captivated her mind?

Each day, he tried to gather his courage, determined to speak to her. Each day, he tried to tell her how much he loved her–how beautiful she was. But each day, he returned home, having never spoken a word.

Spring became summer and for a time when he came to the park, he would wait in vain. His heart would nearly burst with concern. Was she ill? Had she found another love? Where had she gone?

One late afternoon as he waited, she limped toward the pond. She was hurt! What happened? Why had he not declared his love sooner? Perhaps he could have protected her.

She paused at the water’s edge. Each beat of his heart pounded in his head. He stepped forward. He must speak! The words seized in his throat.

She moved into the pond.

At last, with a gasp, he found the courage. “Wait! My love! I must tell you what is in my heart.” She stepped further into the water, as though she could hear or understand his message.

Didn’t she care even a little? She must have noticed him, day after day, hovering on the bank, even though he was unable to speak. Couldn’t she see how he felt? Was her heart so hardened that–?

He turned at the sound of laughter on the shore. Two boys threw stones that struck the water with a plop, each one coming nearer to the place his darling waded.

As she stepped deeper into the pool, a stone struck the back of her head. She stumbled.

How dare they strike his beloved? He rose up in a rage and flew at the boys. Again and again he struck their heads, their shoulders, and their legs. They fled screaming toward their nannies, sitting nattering in the sun beside their prams parked in neat rows beside the painted benches.

He stepped into the pond. The chilled water covered his feet.

His precious stumbled toward the shore, a step, and then two, and collapsed on the grass. He rushed to her side and stood helplessly as she lay slumped on the slippery embankment. Slowly, she arose. Not a word did she speak. Not a glance in his direction.

Perhaps she was blind. Perhaps she couldn’t see how much he wanted to help her.

Then, she stumbled a few steps… and lifted gracefully into the darkening sky, and disappeared into a cloud…

He knew she would never return. Her beautiful pale body would never again stand beside the pond; never again wade into the pool and lean gracefully into the water. He lowered his head and tears trickled from his tiny black eyes.

Children ceased to laugh. The robins ceased to sing and as if the sun had followed his beloved behind the gathering clouds, a shadow passed across the grass.

Again, his mother’s words echoed through his head. “Do not return to the pond, my son. Such a union is not possible. The difference between you is too great.”

He heard a sound and looked up. She was coming back? Perhaps she loved him after all.

She swooped down, down and circled in a graceful arch over his head. Then she spread her wings, turned and flew into the setting sun.

In his heart he heard her say. “It’s not as if I didn’t care. I knew you were always there, loving me, and helping me. But, can’t you see, my dear? We can never be together. Even though our hearts are one, I am an egret and you are a crow.”