Solid Dialogue: Riker’s Calling
by Rico Lamoureux
Whether it be dialogue or description, there’s no secret formula when it comes to writing. It is both an art form and a craft, and therefore, as a creative medium, nothing about its approach should be written in stone. With that said, there are a few guidelines that can be helpful, and since I’m often asked about dialogue, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learned over the past three decades as a storyteller.
First off, let me reiterate… There is no one correct way to approach dialogue. Every single story is its own entity. One might be best served with vivid descriptions, the conversations between its characters being brief and to the point, while others come to life through rich dialogue, like a compelling courtroom drama. The key, the art, is learning to listen to each story, for if you accomplish this, it will tell you how it wants to come to life.
And now on to the guidelines…
Exposition – In most cases, don’t give your exposition through dialogue. Rarely is this technique impressive, the majority of the time coming across as amateurish Whoever’s telling the tale should be the one providing the backstory, through great writing.
Language and Rhythm – How a character talks depends on a lot of contributing factors. From their background to level of education. Environment to personality. In this sense, dialogue is one of the most important tools in distinguishing one character from another.
As with all aspects of the story you’re telling, you want to be in alignment with the truth of it. Someone from the streets is going to sound a lot different than a person from the suburbs. So how do you capture the right language of each of your diverse cast? One thing you can do is to spend some time in a character’s world. Does she come from poverty? Go spend a couple of hours in a welfare office. Subtly observe. Listen. Absorb. The truth of real life can help you tell an authentic story.
Another thing to keep in mind: we speak differently, depending on who we’re talking to. A teenager wouldn’t talk in front of their parents as freely as they do in front of friends. Same thing goes for employee/boss, siblings/someone you have a romantic interest in, etc. A lot of what and how something is said depends on the relationship between characters.
Subtext – Sometimes it’s fun to be clever with dialogue. Innuendos to a bigger picture. The important thing is not to overdo it. Too much of anything is not good, and this includes being witty. You want the reader to stay engrossed, to have that suspension of disbelief, but oftentimes it’s a thin balance, with something as simple as overusing a writing tool causing he or she to lose that engagement.
Thank you, Rico, for stopping by to share your process! Leave him a comment below or visit him at the following links (and check out his newest release):