Dialogue is the impression of how people speak in real life, but actually much more interesting, with more forward motion. Dialogue is one of the core elements of storytelling, and it needs to be used well.Read the whole thing. Cowley offers up all sorts of technical advice, such as the effect of adjective and pronoun choices, the wisdom of omitting conversational attributions, and what happens when you interject action into talk. My favorite section, though, has to about how to turn overheard conversations into fiction-worthy dialogue:
Dialogue is an expression of character, background, education, locality, and circumstance. Listen to how people talk and you'll see that who they are and the situation they find themselves in will influence what they say and how they say it.
Most writing manuals agree that while you should listen to people and imitate speech patterns, you shouldn't use verbatim conversation. Writer Aaron Elkins gives an example of an actual conversation he recorded:That's superb advice, because inspiration lurks in the post office, at the grocery store, in the break room -- just about everywhere. Consider the exchange I overheard while picking up a bottle of wine for a dinner with visiting relatives. While I was waiting at the cash register, a rawbone-thin woman in line behind me hefted a 1.75-liter bottle of premium vodka:"You know how, how … but ... some mornings the minute you walk in the door --"While accurate to real life, that would be terrible dialogue for fiction.
"Yes, that's how these, the way they, the way they …"
"No, it's not. It's not the, the --"
"Yes, it is, it is. Because if you, unless you --"
"No, uh-uh, absolutely not."
If you're not supposed to use actual conversation, how do you write realistic dialogue?
Aaron Elkins explains: "Realistic dialogue attempts to capture the flavor of real speech, but it does it selectively. Word repetitions, hesitations, stammers, and dead ends have to be ruthlessly pruned. So do many of the polite conventions."
"The label says this is the best vodka in the world," she said, waving the jug in the general direction of a salesman. "Why?"Worrying about whether or not a batch of liver-pounding, largely tasteless "product code 020001" meets your gastronomical and ecocentric concerns signals somewhat misplaced priorities, don't you think?
The salesman blinked. "Well, a lot of vodkas are made from potatoes or beets. This one is distilled from wheat."
"Is it non-GMO wheat?"
"I'm ... not sure. But I know the vodka's gluten-free."
Come, dear readers, share with me your own examples of dialogue adapted from the everyday.
(Picture: CC 2005 by Yosomono)