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Writing Believable and Meaningful Dialogue

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Joanna Burkholder

on 1 October 2013

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Transcript of Writing Believable and Meaningful Dialogue

Writing Believable and Meaningful Dialogue
Dialogue is...
The purpose of dialogue is to bring your reader into the ACTION of the story. It is also used to develop characters.

But, as creative writers we need to be sure our dialogue is worth it and does not bore the reader.

Let's look at how screen writers create dialogue to elicit a mood or set the tone for a scene.
It is important to convey the tone of a scene in writing, just like in a movie...
Is your tone reflective? Show this in how your characters interact.

How about humorous? Bring this into your dialogue.

Tense? Show your characters arguing.
How do I punctuate and format dialogue?
Make sure you have a new paragraph for each speaker.

"Do you even like liver and onions?" Suzy said with a questioning look on her face.

"Of course," Becky replied, trying her best to choke down the grimy food and not gag, "it's my favorite."

Notice what we find out about Nemo and his dad (Marlin) in this short scene with dialogue:
"Any rushing fluids?!" Marlin asks while frantically searching Nemo's body for injuries. "How many stripes do I have?!"

"I'm fine," Nemo insists rolling his eyes.

We can safely assume that Marlin is an overprotective dad and Nemo is used to this type of treatment.
Similarly, in this ridiculous scene, Harry and Lloyd converse.
"Where did you find that?" Harry snarls.

"Some kid back in town, Traded the van for it, straight up. I can get 70 miles to gallon this hog," Lloyd says straightening the squeaky side mirror.

This scene reinforces the "dumbness" of the characters and comes across as humorous for the viewer.
Homework Activity
Watch this clip from Napoleon Dynamite. You will recreate this dialogue on your homework sheet. Be sure to include tags and action if necessary to reveals the characters' attitudes. For practice purposes, include a tag on each line.

Notice the punctuation marks INSIDE of the quotation marks.
You can also insert the tag in the middle of a quote. Notice how the first word is not capitalized because the the sentences continues.
If you have multiple lines between two characters, don't tag each line... try this.
"What if I clean the house for a month and drive my sister around wherever she wants?" Jerry suggested. "I really want the new iPhone! Please!" He was practically on his knees.

"Hmmm, will you clean up the dog poop too?" Mom smiled.

"Yes! And the litter box."

"Ok, one month slave labor will get you the phone. Starting today..."

No tag needed. The reader
understands that Jerry is now speaking.
We also now know the mom
responds here because the author
started a new paragraph.
You can add details to the tag to invite the reader into the action.
For Example:

"I might have thrown that a little too hard," Jay said, sweeping up the glass pieces. "Oops."
Now the reader has context and has an idea what the character is doing while speaking. It adds a liveliness to the writing.
"Jay said" is the tag... but "said"
is a dead word you say!!!!
When writing narratives,
we can use "said" SPARINGLY.
This allows the reader to focus on
the dialogue and not on
unrealistic tags such as:

Jay exclaimed
Jay elaborated

The reader knows
who is speaking here,
there is no need to be
redundant with useless tags.
Once you establish the first tags
feel free to omit the others as the
conversation continues.
Full transcript