“Is the dialogue between characters natural and not stilted, revealing plot and emotion in a way that narrative cannot? Are the characters’ voices distinct and appropriate for the setting (time period or scenario)? Is narrative necessary and well-placed with the dialogue, not overwhelming the reader?”
~2008 ACFW Genesis Contest Score Sheet
“Does the dialogue sound natural and/or realistic? Note author’s use of tags, beats, and word usage- is it appropriate for the character/time period, etc.?”
~GothRom Haunted Hearts Contest Score Sheet
“Is there an effective balance between narrative and dialogue? Does the dialogue read naturally, for the time, and reveal the voices of the characters? Does the dialogue and narrative reveal characterization, move the story and/or relationships forward? Is the narrative skillfully used so that the reader is not overwhelmed with information?”
~Crested Butte Friends of the Library Romance Score Sheet
“Dialogue: Natural; believable; well-balanced with narrative; progresses the story; characters’ voices consistent and individual to their personalities.
“Narrative: Well balanced with dialogue . . .”
~The Sheila Writing Competition Score Sheet
“Is the amount of dialogue balanced in relation to the narrative? Is the dialogue natural and genuine? Is the dialogue appropriate to the category/genre? Does the dialogue have a reason for being there or does it feel superficial? Do the dialogue and narrative serve to advance the plot?”
~Virginia Romance Writers’ Contest Score Sheet
“Is there a good balance between dialogue and narrative? Is there enough narrative to support the action and keep the story moving without being so overwhelming that there’s nothing else going on but internal thoughts of the character? (Think about the movie Castaway…even though he was on an island alone, he still had dialogue.) Is the dialogue natural or stilted? Is the author able to relay important information through dialogue without it coming across as a lecture or one character saying something to another character they already know? Is the dialogue appropriate for the region/era in which the book is set? For the characters’ education and socio-economic status?”
~Kaye Dacus, Critical Reading series
I hope you get the point from these examples of questions I’ve posted as to what some of the topics we’re going to be delving into in this series on dialogue will cover.
In How to Grow a Novel, in the chapter “Our Native Language Is Not Dialogue,” Sol Stein writes: “Dialogue is a language that is foreign to most writers of nonfiction and many newcomers to fiction. Totally different from whatever language a writer grows up using, dialogue is also a triumphant language. It can make people unknown to the author cry, laugh, and believe lies in seconds. It is succinct, but can carry a great weight of meaning. In a theater, dialogue can draw thunderous applause from people who have paid heavily for the privilege of listening to it. At its best, as in Shakespeare’s best, dialogue provides us with memorable—and beautiful—guides for understanding the behavior of the human race” (pg. 90).
Wow. What a burden to put on this portion of our writing!
Since 99% of writers are readers, we all know when dialogue “works” and when it doesn’t when we read it. We just may not be able to put our fingers on exactly what it is that makes it work or not. Well, that’s what we’re going to try to figure out in this series.
Now, your assignment for this week:
Find a reality show—like America’s Next Top Model or Big Brother or something where the characters are somewhat confined in an area with each other, which leads to sit-down conversations and not just people yelling instructions or encouragement at each other. It needs to be a conversation. Record a couple of minutes of it and then transpose—word for word, um for um, like for like—the conversation into text. Then find a contemporary-set movie that you’ve enjoyed, one that you think has great dialogue (a romantic comedy like You’ve Got Mail or something like that would be good) and transpose a scene of conversation from it (the scene in You’ve Got Mail when Joe stops by Kathleen’s apartment when she’s sick and he brings her the daisies is a good one for this exercise). Aside from all the words that have to be bleeped from the reality show’s conversation, what differences do you find between the “real” conversation and the scripted one? Be prepared to discuss this on Thursday’s post, when I’ll post the examples I find.
Until then, let’s kick the comments off with questions from y’all—what problems are you having with dialogue? What do you want to know about it? Are there any concerns that the score-sheet questions I posted above raise for you?