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Writing Dialogue – Part 4

2006-12-06

Here’s the fourth part in Randy Ingermanson’s series on dialog:

If you like this info, check out his novel writing materials.

In the last three issues, I talked about why dialogue
is not like “real conversation”, about what makes good
dialogue, and about the importance of using dialogue
tags. In all three cases, it comes down to showing
conflict, not telling it. Dialogue is war and you need
to show the battle in all its gory glory.This month, I want to add another dimension to this
discussion. The key point is that every war has a “good
side” and a “bad side.” (That’s the theory, anyway. In
practice, it ain’t necessarily so.)

The “good side” is Us. The “bad side” is Them. War is
all about Us against Them. And so is dialogue.

More precisely, dialogue is about Me against Them.

And that brings us to the topic of Point of View (POV).
Those of you who’ve ever heard me speak or have worked
through my Fiction 101 series know that there is only
one goal for the novelist: You must give your reader a
Powerful Emotional Experience. Period.

There is no substitute for this. Everything you do as a
novelist should be directed to creating that Powerful
Emotional Experience.

Remember that emotion is centered in a character, the
POV character. In any given scene, there will be ONE
POV character. Your goal as a novelist is therefore
extremely simple: Put your reader inside the skin of
that POV character and give your reader the same
Powerful Emotional Experience that the character is
having.

Do that and you are a novelist. Fail to do that and you
are forever a wannabe, because even your mother will
yawn through your writing.

I’m being dogmatic here because I’m right and every
published novelist in the world knows it.

How does this relate to dialogue? Simple. In your
dialogue, there are two sides: Me and Them. “Me” refers
to your POV character. “Them” refers to everyone else.

You MUST show your dialogue through the lens of your
POV character. You must.

Remember the wretched dialogue we looked at last month?
(If you’ve forgotten, you can look it up in the
archives on my web site:)
http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ezine/index.php

Last month, we buffed up that wretched dialogue by
adding in action tags. This month, we’ll make it better
by choosing a POV character and showing the entire
dialogue from within the skin of that POV character. In
fact, we’ll do it twice, from two different POV
characters. (Warning: it’ll still be wretched dialogue,
because you just can’t rescue this abomination, even
with proper technique.)

Dialogue #1, from Dilbert’s POV:

“Why are you late again?” Bossbert leaned back in his
chair and twirled his pointy hair with his pudgy
fingers.

Dilbert smoothed his tie again. The thing still
wouldn’t lie flat. This had to be that laundry woman’s
fault. She hated him — that was it. “What makes you
think I’m late? By Hawaii time, I’m early.”

“Go help Wally.” Bossbert bit into a donut. Jelly ran
down his fingers onto the carpet. “He’s behind again.”

Dilbert was sick to death of helping Wally, but he was
even more sick to death of arguing with Bossbert.
“Where is he?”

Bossbert shrugged. “How should I know? Just find him!”

“OK, OK, no need to get huffy.” Dilbert tossed his
briefcase into his cubicle, grabbed his coffee cup, and
scurried down the hall. At least he was rid of the
pointy-haired demon from —

“Alice has the design documents.” Bossbert padded along
behind him.

Dilbert wondered if life could possibly get any better
than this.

Asok the intern raced out of the coffee room. “Dilbert,
help us get Wally out of the trash compactor!”

Dilbert’s heart began racing, but he was pretty sure
Asok’s news was too good to be true.

Bossbert whacked his hand against his pointy hair.
“This place is a zoo.”

Dilbert stared at him. Could you die of irony?

* * *

Dialogue #2, from Bossbert’s POV:

“Why are you late again?” Bossbert leaned back in his
chair and twirled his hair with his fingers, wondering
what kind of sad excuse Dilbert was going to make this
time.

Dilbert smoothed at his tie like he did every day. It
sprang back up again like it did every day. “What makes
you think I’m late? By Hawaii time, I’m early.”

And how was a boss going to get anything done with an
employee like that? Maybe the only hope for Dilbert was
osmosis off the star employee in the group. “Go help
Wally.” Bossbert bit into a donut. Jelly ran down his
fingers onto the carpet. Alice had probably sabotaged
the donuts again. “He’s behind again.” And no wonder,
when all Wally’s teammates were such screwoffs.

Dilbert got that helpless look on his face that could
drive you nuts if you let it. “Where is he?”

Bossbert shrugged. He was not going to let Dilbert get
to him. He was NOT. “How should I know? Just find him!”

“OK, OK, no need to get huffy.” Dilbert tossed his
briefcase into his cubicle, grabbed his coffee cup, and
scurried down the hall.

That kind of evasion was just typical of the little
worm. Bossbert wasn’t going to let him off the hook. He
hurried after Dilbert. “Alice has the design
documents.” You had to spell things out for a guy like
Dilbert.

Asok the intern raced out of the coffee room. “Dilbert,
help us get Wally out of the trash compactor!”

Bossbert whacked his hand against his head. Thirteen
months and fifteen days till retirement. IF these
monkeys didn’t give him a stroke first. “This place is
a zoo.”

* * *

Like I said, there’s not a lot you can do with a scene
this horrible, but we did our best here. In Dialogue
#1, we showed the war from Dilbert’s side, and Bossbert
was the bad guy. Everything Dilbert does has a reason.
Everything Bossbert does is inane.

In Dialogue #2, it’s the reverse. Now Bossbert is the
smart guy, and Dilbert is the dork.

We achieved these effects with a little interior
monologue woven into the dialogue. Interior monologue
is the train of thoughts inside the POV character’s
head. A little interior monologue goes a long way
toward getting your reader inside the skin of your POV
character.

Of course, you need more that that to write great
dialogue. You need stakes. And in the Dilbert/Bossbert
scenes above, there really aren’t any stakes. Next
month, we’ll look at some examples of scenes with
stakes that are a bit higher.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 5000 readers, every month. If
you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com . Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

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