The authors in the “He Said, She Said” panel held on Friday at 7PM in the Hyatt Embassy C–D discussed the art of dialogue in writing. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, John D. Ringo, Gail Z. Martin, Katherine Kurtz, Bill Fawcett, and A.J. Hartley were on hand to give tips and pointers regarding how to write dialogue.
The first point the panel discussed was how to make sure your dialogue makes sense. Being true to the character was high on the list—once the character’s voice is determined, continue that voice throughout the rest of the piece. Sounding like real people is another must—listening to people conversing around you can help with this. Trying not to be stilted in the speech pattern is also important—don’t use character’s names in dialogue when you wouldn’t in normal speech. Remember that a character will sound different depending on the situation they are in and whom they are talking to. A way to test whether or not your dialogue is working is to try taking out the “Bill said” tags, and if it makes sense, you’re on the right track. And don’t forget, people don’t always talk in full sentences. Tone and word choice is important. Finally, dialect and slang help determine a character. When using either of these language variants, make sure they fit the character’s voice.
Romantic dialogue was next on the list. One of the ideas that was mentioned in order to show characters are interested in each other is to have them talk about their life prior to meeting each other, especially their childhood. This may work with a newly forming relationship, but an established relationship would be treated differently. Subtext is important in romantic situations. It may be fun to make the situation awkward, especially in a new relationship. To make sure the romantic scene makes sense, remember the background of the characters and that age and past “scars” of the lovers come into play.
Next on the list of dialogue situations was action scenes. It was noted that there is less dialogue than one would think when characters are physically fighting. There may be communication in action scenes when it portrays a team effort. Regardless, the characters should not be speaking in full sentences. Cursing or oaths are ideal during an action scene. An overmatched-opponent situation would be a chance for a character to speak in full sentences. The scene in The Princess Bride, when Westley and Inigo are fighting, was given as an example.
When imparting information, the panel said it would not make sense for a character to just describe a situation. For example, instead of a character mentioning that the lights have gone out, they may say something like, “For what we’re paying these guys, you would think they could keep the lights on.” Introducing a new character to the situation is an opportunity to pass on information in a dialogue setting. It was also mentioned that writers should be careful not to treat the audience like idiots. If the situation is common, there is no need to spell it out. An ideal example of what not to do was given—”How David Weber Orders A Pizza,” found at https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=635193.
The last point the panel discussed was horrible dialogue. Star Wars was given as an example. It was also suggested to watch B movies and some of the shows and movies on Netflix or Hulu that have one-star ratings. To avoid poor dialogue, listening to people talking around you is a great place to start. Don’t try to be too clever and don’t employ “stupid new author tricks.” Finally, practice writing and ask for feedback on your work. Contests like the Writers of the Future are a great jumping-off point.