JSB: "Dialogue," he said.
"So tell me all about dialogue."
"In one post?"
"Hey, you're the writer. Just do it!"
"Look, let's talk about this later when—"
"Tell me about dialogue!"
"If you'll put that gun down, maybe—"
"Sure. You've just helped. Your dialogue, not to mention your pointing a gun at me, adds to the conflict."
"By arguing with me. Put two characters together who have different agendas. That should be revealed in their dialogue. In fact, that is one of the two primary goals of dialogue—to create conflict."
"Oh yeah? What's the other?"
"To reveal character. And you're doing that, too. Our readers will get the idea you're a rather brusque fellow."
"See? And you don't talk like me. That's another key. Each character should have his or her own way of speaking."
"So I'm doin' somethin' right, is that what yer tellin' me?"
"Almost. I'd avoid overuse of idioms and accents, like 'yer' and 'tellin',' unless they're absolutely necessary. They're too difficult to read. A mere suggestion every now and again is all you need. The reader's imagination will do the rest."
"So I'm NOT doing it right, is that it?"
"I AM calm!"
"At least you're a man of few words. Dialogue in fiction should be brief."
"What if I've got a lot to say?"
"Heaven help us. But if you must, avoid long speeches. Break the speech up, using other characters' interruptions and—"
"Perfect. And with little actions that demonstrate emotion."
"Yes. Waving the gun in my face was just right. You're catching on quick."
"Hey, how about those Dodgers, huh? And isn't it a nice day outside?"
"Hold on. Avoid small talk. You're not trying to recreate real life in a story. Remember, you want to use dialogue to move the story, create tension, interest the reader, reveal character."
"What if my character likes small talk?"
"Good point. If your character is supposed to be a bore, it will work, because that dialogue has a story purpose."
"Thank you. Now give me your wallet."
"Very good! That is a surprise, a twist. It forces the reader to read on. That's often a good way to end a chapter, don't you think?"
"I mean it, give me your wallet, pal!"
"And there's another great tactic, the oblique response. You didn't answer me right on the nose. Work on that angle a lot. Have your characters give slightly off-angle responses whenever they can. That helps makes the scene tense. Listen, fella, why don't you give me the gun, huh?"
"Go ahead, make my day."
"Yech! Avoid clichés like the plague!"
"Is that supposed to be funny?"
"A little humor is always welcome in dialogue, so long as you don't force it. Now hand over the gun."
"Only if you tell me what I should do to make sure my dialogue works."
"Set it aside for a few days. Then read it aloud, in a monotone. Or get a friend to read it to you. Hearing it out loud gives you a different perspective. The gun?"
"Okay. Here. Now what do we do?"
"We figure out a snappy, interesting way to end this post."
"You got an idea?"
"Give me your wallet, pal."
James Scott Bell is the author of the bestselling suspense novel, Presumed Guilty (Zondervan) and the Christy Award finalist Glimpses of Paradise (Bethany House).
"The Suspense Never Rests" www.jamesscottbell.com