Way back in June I posted my second article I wrote for Quill magazine on Creative Writing.

I thought it’s high time I put up the third article. So here it is. I hope you get something out of it for your own writing.

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I’ve previously talked about how ideas can lead us to a story and also how to develop a character.

When we add dialogue, the characters come to life – they start talking. Dialogue can bring variety and spice to a story. Other than a way of passing more information to the reader, dialogue allows the reader to see how the people in the story interact with each other. This further reveals their character.

There are standard ways of showing dialogue, for example:

‘I put the bomb there,’ said Jason.
‘Then you’re a fool,’ said his mother. ‘You’re got rubbish for brains. Why did you do such a thing?’
‘But . . . we need the money,’ said Jason. ‘I did it for you. Can’t you understand?’
‘I should throw you out on the streets. What are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?’
‘I didn’t mean to . . .’
‘When are you getting paid anyway?’

We now ‘hear’ the characters speak and how they interact, and so find out more about the characters. The above example reveals that Jason is timid and his mother dominates him. Instead of being weak and quiet, which is what we might expect of a sick person, we find out that Jason’s mother is an old dragon.

Notice how in the last few lines, I’ve omitted the attribution verb (the ‘he said’/‘she said’ part of it) because, from the flow of the writing, it becomes obvious who’s speaking. Also, when using the attribution verb, it’s best to stick to the plain old ‘said’, instead of trying to vary it with other attribution verbs like ‘declared’, ‘exclaimed’, ‘uttered’, ‘announced’ or anything else you can come up with. For example:

‘I put the bomb there,’ uttered Jason.
‘Then you’re a fool,’ declared his mother. ‘You’re got rubbish for brains. Why did you do such a thing?’
‘But . . . we need the money,’ exclaimed Jason. ‘I did it for you. Can’t you understand?’

The writing is cumbersome and attention is drawn to the attribution verb which, in fact, adds little to the writing. In contrast, the plain old ‘said’ stays almost hidden in a sentence and allows the dialogue to stand out.

Notice too that I’ve not used adverbs, that is the words with the ‘ly’ at the end of it like: lazily, timidly, shamefully. Most writers will tell you that using adverbs weakens the writing, making it melodramatic. For example:

‘I put the bomb there,’ said Jason fearfully.
‘Then you’re a fool,’ said his mother angrily. ‘You’re got rubbish for brains. Why did you do such a thing?’
‘But . . . we need the money,’ said Jason feebly. ‘I did it for you. Can’t you understand?’

The adverbs impede the flow of the writing and have, perhaps, made it a bit silly. Also, it doesn’t add much to the scene.

Once characters are talking, you can bring in slang, dialect and, especially in a Malaysian scene, non-English words. For example:

‘Alamak!’ cried Zain. ‘Where that smoke coming from?’
‘From that coffee shop, mah?’ said Swee Leng.
‘Mana air? mana air?’ said Zain, flapping his hands about.
‘I don know lah,’ said Swee Leng. ‘You got bucket or not?’

Listen to how people speak around you and the phrases they use. This will help your dialogue and your story will be a whole heap more interesting.

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