Creative Schizophrenia: A Lesson In Dialog

copyright 1999, Karen A. Hertzberg

Continued from previous page

Don't Forget Action

Remember to break up dialog with action, which relieves you of having to use all those attributes. Write down your characters gestures and facial expressions. Make them move about and DO things as they speak. Odds are pretty good that your characters wouldn't just sit around staring at each other the whole time they're speaking. Let your characters actions reveal something about them. Does your villain have a creepy facial tic? Does grandpa quirk one fuzzy eyebrow when he asks a question? Does Aunt Bethany fidget nervously while she speaks? Give your characters life so they're not just talking heads.

Make Dialog Count

This is basic, but often overlooked. Make your dialog count for something! Make sure your characters' verbal interactions actually DO something for your story. You can write lines and lines of witty repartee, but if that dialog doesn't move your story forward, add to the conflict, or create drama and tension, you're going to bore your readers quickly. Gratuitous dialog is dull.

Let's go back to watching movies for a moment. The next time you're watching a movie--or even a television sitcom--pay attention to the dialog. Was there even ONE exchange of dialog in the show that didn't add something to thicken the plot? Wouldn't movies and television be boring if characters stood around making small talk?

"I Remember 1947, When Papa Died of Pneumonia and We Sold the Farm to Pay Off the Bankers . . ."

Please, please, please don't use your character's dialog to fill in your backstory. It's ridiculous. Even when characters legitimately discuss the past, they shouldn't throw in every little detail. People don't remember events that way. Your characters WILL tell a story, with your help, but please don't make them tell it all in one exchange of dialog.

"Good dialog is such a pleasure to come across while reading," says Anne Lamott in her book on writing, Bird by Bird. "Suddenly people are talking, and we find ourselves clipping along. And we have all the pleasures of voyeurism because the characters don't know we're listening." Your characters don't know that you, the writer, are listening, either--but listen you must. Whip out that steno pad and start taking notes for the voices in your head. Schizophrenia was never quite this fun!

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