Tips for Writing Dialogue and Getting it Right

Courtesy of Script Magazine & Google

Writing dialogue is one of the most challenging skills for writers to learn. Conversations dominate our lives on a day-to-day basis, but we rarely, if ever, focus on the tone, rhythm, or body language when engaged.

I like to people watch. The mall or similar venues are great places to hone this skill. Observing other’s interactions offers a treasure trove of different gestures, tones,  words, body language, and action, to use in your stories.

Writing dialogue isn’t as easy as watching a conversation. In real life, we don’t have to worry about commas, speech tags, unclear antecedents, tone, or rhythm, or who is speaking. But, when writing, we must convey all of those aspects and more.

One of the stories in my upcoming short story collection is almost entirely dialogue. I have revisited that story a million times to ensure the conversation between the two men flow, sound natural, and is believable. That’s a rabbit hole best left for another discussion. Ultimately, readers will determine if I did my job well or not. For those of you who struggle, as I do, following are a few tips I’ve learned along the way and trust me, I’m not the expert.

 Writing Dialogue:

  1. Short sentences are best.
  2. Use contractions unless your story dictates a more formal language or it is a characteristic of one of your characters.
  3. Make it clear who is speaking.
  4. Don’t overuse the characters names.
  5. Keep dialogue tags simple as in: said, asked, replied, and answered. Using verbs like whispered, shouted, or stammered are permissible, but don’t over do it.
  6. Don’t forget body language which often speaks louder than words.
  7. Stay away from dialects unless you’re an expert in the dialect.
  8. Characters shouldn’t sound like duplicates of each other. We all have our own distinctive manner of speaking; characters should too.
  9. In real life, we often say, um, ah, or trail off in the middle of a sentence, but use sparingly, unless it’s reflective of a particular characters speech pattern.
  10. Make sure the conversation has a purpose. In real life, we talk about topics that would never keep a reader’s interest. For example using coffee grounds to fertilize the soil of house plants. Unless discussing coffee grounds is significant to the story – like say,  burying a murder instrument underneath the coffee grounds – I’d leave that conversation out of the story.

Speaking of observation, here is a look at one of my all time favorite scenes. Whoever wrote this dialogue, rich in words, body language, gestures, and action. It was magnificent. Enjoy.

Want more information on dialogue? Check out these resources:

I’d love to hear your comments. Talk to me. Tell me your story and look for me on Facebook at SheilaMGood,  PinterestBloglovinTwitter@sheilamgood, Contently, and Instagram. You can follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

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Not the Headline I Had in Mind

Of all the places I thought I might meet my demise, locked inside a chicken coop, in 90-degree weather, was NOT on my list of ways to meet my maker.

I haven’t seen the inside of a chicken coop since I was a child. It was a regular occurrence for Grandma Mattie to run me out of theirs. Of course, I was a wee child full of mischief. Was and child being the operative words.

My two daughters couldn’t be more different if I’d found them thumbing through a sperm bank catalog, blindfolded. They do have one thing in common – the love animals. My youngest has a cat, Bailey, whom she adores and would sacrifice her mother to save him. My oldest has a small farm and there in lies the beginning of my almost demise.

She and her family are on a much-needed and long overdue vacation to the beach. A few weeks back we had the following conversation:

Her: “Mom, will you run by and check on my animals while we’re gone?”
Me:  “All of them?”
Her: “Yeah, it’s easy, and I’ll leave you detailed instructions.”
Me:  “How many do you have now?”
Her:4 Dogs –  Bobby George, Pig, Jack, and Carlos; 2 Birds – Renee and Donice;
 1 guinea pig – Penny Gig; 8 Cats – Ester, Ash, Little Bear, Squirrel, Fuzzy, Russell, Loud Mouth, and Nimbus; 2 Chickens – Fluff Butt and Clarabelle, and 2 Baby Chicks –  Willy Jean and Duck.”
Me:  Gulp! “Sure, I’ll  be happy to. Y’all deserve a vacation; have fun.” What in the hell? I’ve lost my damn mind.
Her:  “There’s a pair of galoshes by the back door to use in the chicken coop.”
Me:  “Oh, good.” I NEED galoshes? What the hell kinda chickens do they have?

Dear God, I’ll never remember their names. Hell, I have a difficult time telling my granddaughter, Harper, and my dog, Piper apart. Try saying those two names three times and see for yourself. I spent the whole time yesterday calling, Bobby George – Bobby Joe and Pig – Piglet. The others got, “Hey you” (close enough).

I’m always eager to help out my kids and who can’t feed and water pets? I mean, seriously; I was a single mother for eight years, worked and went to school full-time – just call me Superwoman. I did, however, have a few, itty-bitty concerns – like, forgetting one of the animals, losing one of the animals, or letting the chickens fly the coop – so to speak. Nah, Nana’s got this!

I reviewed the instructions my daughter left and got down to business, starting with the easiest – the guinea pig and the birds. Renee and Donice’s water looked as if they taken a crap in it –  no biggy; I refilled their cup with fresh, cool water and moved on to Penny Gig who seemed fat and comfy in her cage, without a care in the world. The herd of cats – were A-Okay – can cats be in a herd?  So far, so good; nothing to it. I moved outside, slipped my feet into the waiting galoshes and opened the door to the backyard.

The dogs came running around the corner to me and Piper (my little Bichon, a white fluffy thing) as if a circus had come to town. I thought a little exposure to other animals would be a positive experience for Piper (not entirely). Bobby George, Jack, Pig, and Carlos surrounded her, barking, sniffing, doing the usual meet and greet (sort of) which paralyzed Piper in place for 10 minutes or so. I could see it on her face – What the hell mom? It’s 90 degrees and who are these mutts?

No offense intended the mutts are all precious rescue animals. I’m not responsible for Piper’s opinions. She thinks she’s human and tiptoes along the brick edging of the patio because she doesn’t like to get her feet wet from the morning dew, need I say more?

Now, back to my near demise. I checked the dog’s food and water and made the necessary adjustments. Carlos looked a little overheated, so I shoved him through the doggie door to cool off and headed to the chicken coop.

I slid the latch and eased inside, careful not to let Piper or the other dogs sneak in behind me. The chickens ignored me, and the baby chicks were fine and dandy. All was going as planned. There was, of course, a bit of tension in the back yard but nothing more than the occasional scolding couldn’t handle.

“Okay you guys, stop it, no fighting. Bobby George, behave yourself. Piper, I’ll be done in a minute. Piper?” Oh, shit! Where’d she go?

Finally, mission accomplished. Proud and sweating, I turned to leave. The door wouldn’t open; the latch had slipped into place! Are you kidding me? I reached for my phone – oh yeah, left it on the counter, IN THE HOUSE!

Where’s Grandma Mattie when you need her? Or, anybody else for that matter. I scanned the neighborhood, the best I could from my vantage point. Not a car or person in sight. Would anyone hear me if I started screaming? “HELP! HELP! I’m in the chicken coop and can’t get out!” Now, that’s a commercial! I felt like the tree in the forest. If no one’s around when it falls …

I jiggled the door, stuck my arthritic fingers through the wire, and tried to reach the thingamajig, but NO-O-O. I picked up a small rake-looking thing and tried it – NOPE, too stiff.

Sweat was pouring off me like I was in the middle of a hot yoga class and I was running out of options. Piper who’s not used to 90-degree weather was on her way to a heat stroke, whining, panting and pawing at the door – Come on MOM!  I wasn’t sure who would croak first her or me.

The coop had cover; so, I could get out of the sun. The thought crossed my mind until  I remembered why I was wearing galoshes – ah, no, scratch that idea. Then, there was Piper.

I couldn’t bust out. 1– chicken wire is stronger than it looks, and 2– Bobby George might think Nana had brought in a gourmet dinner. The idea of me chasing chickens all over the yard with four dogs in hot pursuit (no pun intended) was a non-starter.

I had one more shot before I started screaming  –  a  6-inch long twig with enough bend that it might just work. Of course, this is a woman who can’t manage to hold a juice glass. It was a long shot, and if I dropped the damn thing, Piper and I would be toast – literally.

It worked! I grabbed Piper and hightailed it inside to, thank God, the comfort of air-conditioning. Bless that baby; she’s still recuperating. I don’t know what would’ve been worse, me screaming HELP at the top of my lungs, having to call 911 (had that been possible) or, finding me curled up in a pile of shavings and chicken shit! I shudder to imagine.

Tomorrow is another day and another visit. I’m leaving Piper at home, attaching my phone to my hip, taking Velcro, string, and anything else I think will get me in and out of the damn chicken coop and home safely.

The last thing my daughter wrote on her note was, “Thanks, I love you and don’t let my animals die!” I guess it didn’t dawn on her; the animals were not the ones she needed to worry about.

I’m trying to prepare for the day I make that final trip, but I’m not too fond of these headlines:

Grandmother Found Dead Inside Her Daughter’s Chicken Coop.

Not exactly the headline I wanted ushering me out of this world into the next.

I’d love to hear your comments. Talk to me. Tell me your story and look for me on Facebook at SheilaMGood,  PinterestBloglovinTwitter@sheilamgood, Contently, and Instagram. You can follow my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

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