Making Dialogue Feel Real


I read a book recently, The Settlers, by Jason Gurley, that had fantastic dialogue. I wrote about it in my review. It was powerful and, more importantly, made me feel like it was REAL dialogue. Have you ever read a book in which the dialogue fell flat? Maybe like the words spoken between characters just didn’t seem right? Heck, maybe you’ve written some pretty bad dialogue yourself; I know I have.

When I’m reading a book, I love the dialogue. That’s what makes me feel involved in the process. With conversation, it opens up the characters to one another. As readers, we are gods. We’re omnipotent observers because we get to read the back stories. We know the characters thoughts. The other characters don’t know these things, so when the dialogue comes along, the characters are letting out the secrets that we already know. You know how hard it is to keep a secret!

I’ve said that the hardest thing for me has been character development. I think I have a decent handle on that now, but the second hardest thing for me is dialogue. In my opinion, dialogue is a very important part of character development, if for no other reason than it is what makes them seem real. I mean, Ian Fleming could have filled our heads with great backdrops, stories, and thoughts of James Bond, but it really is the suave way that Bond talks to others (particularly the women) that make us love him. Unless your story is going to be set up based around the life of a mime, then you have to practice your dialogue skills. It certainly took a good bit of practice for me.

Assuming that you already know and understand the rules of punctuation surrounding dialogue (no small feat if you are new to it or are not an avid reader), you have to have a certain flow. I almost don’t know how to explain it. Coming from an academic, research based writing background, my dialogue flow was rough. Contractions were so non-existent in my head that I didn’t know where the apostrophe button was. Unless you are writing a Commander Data or Spoke fan fic, you really need to know where it is. People usually don’t talk in proper English. We are all about some contractions.

Making the dialogue real is important, but you know it can go overboard. Very rarely can an author go full on slang and get away with it. Mark Twain could manage it, but I certainly can’t. Could you imagine reading a book base on characters from Boston or How about southern Louisiana in which the author tried to get every word phonetically correct? You can throw most accents and slang out the window, especially if you are new at writing fiction (like me).

Most of the time, dialogue can’t simply be the spoken words (I know that it pretty much the definition though). What you put around the spoken words is just as important. Conversations between real people usually are accompanied by some kind of hand or head movement. Real conversations are also filled with thought in the heads of the participants. That has to be shown through the dialogue. Here is a brief snipet of dialogue that I just wrote for two of the characters in my new book, but completely stripped down and flow inept:

“I still have not opened the Bible you gave me,” said Benjamin. Pastor Raymond had given it to him a few months ago.

“I did not ask if you had,” said Raymond.

“I know, but I did not want you to get your hopes up,” said Benjamin.

“You will open it when and if you are ready,” said Raymond. “Rushing faith is an easy way to turn people away from God.”

Now, to me, that is about as ugly as it gets. Let’s look at what I really wrote:

“I still haven’t opened the Bible you gave me,” said Benjamin. Pastor Raymond had given it to him three months prior, probably hoping that Benjamin would gain a better understanding of faith.

“I didn’t ask if you had,” replied Raymond.

“I know,” said Benjamin, “but I didn’t want you to get your hopes up.” Benjamin smiled a little, hoping he could keep the pastor’s patience in check. He knew he didn’t have to worry about it, though. Pastor Raymond was the most patient person he knew.

“You’ll open it up when and if you’re ready,” said Raymond. “Rushing faith is an easy way to turn people away from God.”

Mechanically, everything that could be contracted is. That’s just how we talk. We’re not writing a research paper, we’re writing fiction. Also new to the second part it the filler between the characters speaking to one another. It tells you that they are not simply robots, but people that are having their own individual thoughts and feelings. In real conversation, this is stuff we do. We think about what the other person it saying and we wonder what they are thinking. Often what we are thinking is not what we say, and that has to be shown to the reader in fiction dialogue. If you want your audience to connect with the characters, you have to make them real. OH! Yes, I was hoping I could circle this back around to character development and there it is (I’m feeling a bit like the Doctor today thanks to my new sonic screwdriver).

New fiction writers, like myself, often rely on too little dialogue because it scares them. Sure, descriptions of the scenes are nice, and who doesn’t love to take a trip into a character’s past via flashbacks? But dialogue is where it’s at. I like to think of all the words in the book as parts of speech, with the dialogue being the action verbs. It adds the excitement and ups the tempo. Everything else is important, just not as much.

What do you think about dialogue? If you disagree, please let me know. On this blog, I just write things down regardless of whether or not it is right. Do you have your own way of making dialogue work? Put some of your own dialogue in the comments!


Superman, Gays, and Ender’s Game – An Orson Scott Card Adventure

adventuresuperman      Harrison-Ford-and-Asa-Butterfield-in-Enders-Game-2013-Movie-Image      orson

For reference to what I am talking about, see this and many other stories about Orson Scott Card by Google search.

I’ve been kicking this controversy around in my head for a while now, but I still don’t know where I stand on it. Here’s where I am as of right now.

You see, I’m a recent Ender’s Game fan. I was browsing through the internet (aka – my life) a few months back and saw that Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield were playing in a new movie. So, I checked it out and saw that the movie would be based on the books Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. So, I went to the store and bought every book in the series. Why did I buy every book? Because, I’m obsessive like that. I knew that if I liked the first one, I would have to have the rest. So I took care of it all at once.

Ya know what? I loved them. When I read Ender’s Game, I felt so attached to the characters that I knew I had to read more. And more. I’ve read them all now.

It wasn’t until I finished the first book that I looked into the author, Orson Scott Card. Come to find out, there is a ton of controversy surrounding him. Turns out, he pretty scared of homosexuals. He has been pretty outspoken about homosexual rights throughout the years, as any quick Google search will tell you. He is also a Mormon, which is where I believe his views come from (not that all Mormons feel the same about homosexuality, but most do). He is very outspoken about his opposition to gay marriage, which many others are as well. I’m not just picking on him.

Now, many people are saying that they will not be going to see the movie when it comes out on November 1st. I however, will be there on opening day. Why? Because I can separate the art from the artist.

Many people will say that I must support his views. I definitely do not. In fact, I find them wrong and way out of place for the time. I am a Christian and I do not believe Jesus would condone soooo many of the things we do nowadays, including how we treat gay rights. I do not, however, believe that boycotting his work will change his views. It will likely harden them. It will further entrench the two sides of the debate. Honestly, some people’s views are just not going to change on this subject. Guess what – I’m okay with that as long as no violence comes of it.

Furthermore, if the argument of not seeing or reading his stuff is made simply because people disagree with certain views, then we would have a problem. Simply apply that logic to other areas. Nobody would see any movies, especially not Republicans. Because everyone knows all about those Hollywood libs. Nobody would see those Sean Penn movies because of his closeness with South American socialists, right? Wrong.

Look, we disagree in this country. We are actually allowed to do that, contrary to popular modern belief. Orson Scott Card has produced some great novels in the Ender’s series. They teach valuable lessons and they make for excellent reading. They have depth and excitement. I would recommend them to anyone, gay or straight.

He was recently chosen by DC to pen the new Superman novel. Unfortunately, this controversy has caused them to shelve the project. It will likely never see the light of day. That’s a shame. Changing people’s minds by boycotting can work in some cases, but it is going to deprive us of some great books in the process. Card has kept his work separate from his views. I have never read anything homophobic in his books. What he does with his private time is up to him (I wish he would take the same view). This is still America, so lets fight it out the way Americans do – with guns and the bible – with logic and compassion.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome below, just play nice.

‘Ender’s Game and Philosophy,’ New Book, Asks: ‘How Queer Is Ender?’

Op-ed: Why I plan to skip Ender’s Game

The Boycott of the Upcoming Ender’s Game film: Is it Justified?

Why Skipping Ender’s Game because of Orson Scott Card is a bad idea

You have to read to write!

I love to read. I go through phases with my reading though. I’m weird.

When I was growing up my grandmother got me into books about cats solving mysteries. Obviously, it was fiction (although I’ve met some pretty amazing cats in my lifetime). Fiction has such a valuable place in the literature, especially with kids and young adults. Without reading, how can they spark their imaginations? Well, the answer to that now is video games. Don’t get me wrong, I love Call of Duty just as much as the next guy, but I balance out the mind-numbing experience with my books.

Reading doesn’t only spark imaginations, its makes kids smarter. We all know that. Kids that read perform better in school. Their writing and vocabulary improves and, I would argue, they are happier. I know I was, and I know that performed better in all subject areas simply because I read (screw math).

So, I read fiction all the way through high school, but in college, I stopped. Not reading, but reading fiction. I had little time for any reading besides my college texts, which oddly enough, I mostly enjoyed. My passion is international affairs, so I made sure my schedule was full of classes that most Americans would balk at. Towards the end of my graduate studies, I decided to pick up some biographies of American historical figures. I got hooked on non-fiction. There was a time that I even decided that I was through reading fiction. I knew fiction was a waste of time.

It took me years to pick up a fiction novel again, and I did it with the newest Star Wars series of books. Once again, I was hooked. I again fell in love with letting go. I could pick up a book and forget everything else that was going on. Thank goodness I did, because I needed it. I became a cranky person when someone jolted me out of my book worlds.

Now I’m finishing my first fiction book, so clearly my view of fiction has changed. I think fiction and non-fiction are both are vital to having a well rounded reading experience. They offer different things and I would strongly argue that both are necessary for someone to become a good author (I don’t claim to be one, by the way).

Perhaps the most important thing is to keep reading. It is so easy to get distracted and not pick up a book. How often do you think – I’m just too tired tonight, so I’ll make sure I read tomorrow? Then the next day, the same thing. Getting out of the habit is much easier than getting back into it (opposite of most habits).

So, do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Do you think one or both are important for writers?

Do you think authors can be successful without being avid readers themselves?