Everyone has a natural talent—something they just seem to be good at without much previous learning experience. For me, I could say that I was a particularly quick learner when I first tried ice skating, and I’ve gotten quite a positive response (so far) to acting, but nothing came as naturally as writing.
I was always good in English class. Heck, I was good at every subject. But I never loved English, mainly because I didn’t want to dissect books. I just wanted to read them. But as I got older, I started to appreciate the way I could identify the structure of a book—it’s character development, it’s symbols and motifs, the way a plot climaxes...
It was only after I started writing my own stories that I began to look at books in a different light…like a writer.
I say that writing seemed to come to me naturally. That doesn’t mean I was perfect. When I look back at some of my previous work, I literally cringe at how corny or cheesy it is, and of course the writing itself had a number of flaws. But I grew. I learned. And now, I’m still far from perfect, but I’m confident enough to say that I have a skill in the art, and I’m able to offer some (hopefully helpful) advice on how to improve, if you’re a writer struggling to perfect their craft.
The aspect of writing that I think I have the most skill in is dialogue. To me, dialogue comes very naturally. It’s actually the hardest thing, I think, to give advice about, because like I said, it comes naturally. I don’t have to think about it. It’s not a technical thing. Truth be told, I often talk to myself—while lying in bed before I go to sleep, while in the shower, while driving, while zoning out at work (of course, the worst possible times to need to write things down)—but I talk to ‘myself’ as in I’m two (or more) characters talking to each other. I’ll play the part of Character A and Character B, and just throw lines back and forth like I’ve having a full conversation with another side of me (think of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde talking to each other through a mirror).
But, if I had to give any advice that doesn’t involve you convincing everyone that you’re crazy, like me, I would say to:
1. READ. Every writer and editor will attest to this. It’s single handedly the most effective way to learn how to write.
2. Listen. Rather than people watching, do a little people listening. You know how you speak. You know how your mom speaks, or your best friend speaks. How does the silly old couple that visits the diner every Sunday speak? (Note: awkward situations may ensue if you get caught listening in…especially if you overhear, like, a murder confession or something)
3. Pause. Like with acting, writing can benefit with a few natural beats. A pause, usually indicated by an ellipsis or an em dash (… or –), is when a character might trail off after bringing up something that they seemed to say before realizing they shouldn’t have said it, or when a character thinks about their answer to an interesting question.
4. Skip the Boring, Everyday Stuff. Not too long ago I read a work-in-progress by a fellow writer and one of the biggest issues I had with it was the dialogue. It felt very cliché, predictable, like I knew exactly what the characters would say to each other and it never surprised me (think of a romance in which the dialogue involves lines like “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life” and “Your eyes are beautiful, like the ocean. I can stare at them all day”) Please…dialogue is not the same as conversation. Unless you’re trying to point out the awkwardness of everyday chatter, I never want to see phrases like “Hi. How are you?” or “Nice weather today, right?” Think of dialogue as like the kind of deep, thrilling, thought-provoking conversation you always want to have with someone but don’t. Dialogue helps turn a story of everyday life into something more meaningful. Your character should never say anything boring; every word is crucial to moving the plot along. Every word means something else.
5. Be Careful with Dialogue Tags (he said, she said, etc.). If there are only two people in the scene, you don’t need to write who is saying what after every line. After the first two lines of dialogue, we get the order of who is speaking, unless it changes. Also, use (he said/she said), not (said he/said she). It’s a bit outdated, and honestly, a little irksome to read. Finally, don’t limit yourself to using ‘said’ for your dialogue tags. Don’t even limit yourself to using tags at all! Use adjectives and actions to mix things up.
Uallas impatiently shifted in his seat, then eventually stood up and faced her. The only noticeable movement was her eyes. They shifted to his new position and never left him. Her gaze was a rope that tied him down. She made sure that nothing he did went unnoticed. Other than that, she continued to do absolutely nothing.
The man twitched with irritation. He paced about the room, watching her eyes simply dart back and forth, but the rest of her body was like stone. The man groaned.
"Well kill me now, won't you?"
In response to her continuous silence, Uallas began to rant, though he knew she wouldn't understand anyway.
"I come all the way out here and find you so you can kill me, and you're just going to stand there? Now how can I go back to town again, back to a life of suffering? This was my hope, you see. It was my hope to die, so I didn't have to go back. But now what? You stand there and watch me, for what reason? You think I will make the first move? Are you waiting for me to strike you first, and then will you kill me?" He paused, and knew he was too much of a coward to try and attack her. "No, I won't do that. But if you're the creature everyone says you are, then why won't you just kill me!"
"Because there is no reason for you to die."
Uallas stopped immediately when he heard that sound; it was like two married sounds, one a branch cracking and the second a ghoul moaning. So frightened, his entire body caught her statuesque disease from those few small words, unable to move any part of his body, even a shift in his eyes. Her voice had a certain tone beneath it, like it was that of another animal. It radiated with darkness; it didn't sound completely demonic, but was certainly inhuman. The man looked up at her gaunt green face and gave the beast a mystified expression.
"What did you say?"
"I said, because there is no reason for you to die." She paused, and Uallas blinked. "I will not just kill you, when you have done nothing to hurt me. Considering the many I’ve slain in self-defense, I think it's reasonable enough to spare at least one individual of Lerewood who actually has some peace of mind. There aren't many like you, I assume."
He didn't know what to say. Was this truly the creature from the stories he grew up hearing, the woman, with her dark magic, able to sever limbs from bodies and melt skin from bones? Was this the savage who ripped her claws into your chest and pulled out your organs one by one? And if this was in fact the very Ilere whom everyone thought they knew, was she truly telling him she will not kill him because he does not wish to inflict pain upon her?
Despite these numerous thoughts that circled in his mind, Uallas blurted out, "You can speak our language?"
~Excerpt from Chapter 5 of The Lerewood
Research ways to improve your dialogue, if you wish. There are a lot of great articles online that point out some very good tips and rules to follow. But, honestly, in my opinion, the best way to ride a bike is to ride it, not to listen to someone telling you how to ride it. So write, read, and above all else…have crazy conversations with yourself. :-)
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Here you can find news on The Lerewood and what I'm up to.