An Interview with the Winner of August's: Talk to Me Challenge + some thoughts on dialogue

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The August Challenge: Talk To Me focused on the usage of dialogue. Dialogue can be a difficult thing to get right, but we had some awesome entries in the August Challenge that proved lots of WEbook members already have the skill down to a T. 

There are plenty of methods that you can use to get your written dialogue up to scratch if you think you need a bit of help in that area. We've scoured the web to find some of the best tips and tricks that you can use to help craft your own brilliant dialogue.





RULE 1
Contract that stilted exchange






A: "Hello. How are you? It is a nice day today."

B: "Yes, it is very nice and sunny. I am good thank you, and how are you?"

A: "I am very good, thank you. Have you had a nice day?"

B: "Yes, it was nice. I will tell you later. I do not want these nosy people to overhear what I have been getting up to. It is ridiculously funny, but it is not for public consumption."

A: "OK. I will wait then."

***

That was pretty boring. But we can jazz it up pretty easily. One word - CONTRACTIONS. When we speak to people IRL, we regularly use contractions in our speech. This applies to the typical 'do not' > 'don't' examples, but also to the use of superfluous words. Let's re-write this exchange using contractions and check out the difference it makes.

***

A: "Hi. How're you? It's a nice day today."

B: "Yes, it's very nice and sunny. I'm good thanks, and you?"

A: "I'm very good, thanks. You've had a nice day?"

B: "Yes, it was nice. I'll tell you later. I don't want these nosy people to overhear what I'm going to tell you. It's ridiculously funny, but it's not for public consumption."

A: "Ok. I'll wait then."
***

Still pretty boring, but it's less stunted because we have employed contractions. Whoopee, first hurdle overcome. Now, let's get on to the second point. 

***




RULE 2
Drop the small talk 






Small talk is awful enough in real life, but when you've got to read it it's like pulling teeth. Only give the reader information they actually need, don't bore them senseless with unnecessary information.

Let's see what we can do with our example to cut out that small talk:

***

A: "Hi. How're you?"

B: "I'm good thanks, and you?"

A: "I'm very good, thanks. You've had a nice day?"

B: "Yes, it was nice. I'll tell you later. I don't want these nosy people to overhear what I'm going to tell you. It's ridiculously funny, but it's not for public consumption."

A: "Ok. I'll wait then."

***

Ok, we're getting somewhere now. Still not that interesting though is it? The problem we need to tackle now is that we've got two people speaking, but it's nigh on impossible to tell them apart by their style of speech. Which takes us nicely on to point 3...

***



RULE 3
Distinction.



Both of the voices in the dialogue example are pretty well spoken. We had to force them to use contractions, and they insisted on discussing the weather at the beginning of their exchange. That may have been nice for them socially, but for us as readers it added absolutely zilch to our experience. In fact, all it did was bore us and make us want to shut the book, close the tab, and generally move on to something else. Obviously that's not the kind of effect you want to kindle in your reader, so we need to think about giving the characters a bit of... character!

***

A: "How's it goin'?"

B: "Yeah, not bad thanks, bud. How about yourself?"

A: "Gettin' there. Good day?"

B: "Yeah, it was nice. I'll tell you later, bud. I don't want this lot to overhear what I'm going to tell you. It's so funny, but it's not for public consumption."

A: "No worries."

***

So here we've used a few things to differentiate the style of dialogue between the two characters. Obviously space is somewhat limited, so for the purposes of the example, we've utilised some pretty standard tools to do this with. 

Character A: Uses short sentences, one of which is a statement, and drops letters from the ends of words.

Character B: Uses longer sentences and sometimes uses 'bud' at the end.

There are lots of things you can use to differentiate your speakers. You should base this on their personalities and let the character lead the way, don't feel like you've got to force qualities on to your character just to differentiate them in speech. If you've developed good, strong character profiles in your own mind, they will naturally find their own style of speech. Some things you may want to consider in your character are...

- Accent
- Background & class
- Strong / weak adjectives
- Positive / negative adjectives
- Colloquialisms
- Period
- Education level

***




RULE 4
Keep it interesting



We've touched on the pitfalls of small talk, but writing obvious dialogue can be just as tedious to read. Keep it interesting, show off some character, some excitement, and don't follow the obvious route.

***

A: "How's it goin'?"

B: "Yeah, not bad thanks, bud. How about yourself?"

A: "Gettin' there. Good day so far?"

B: "I'll tell you later, bud. I don't want this lot to overhear. It's so funny, but it's defo not for public consumption. This lot are a bit 'touché', if you get my drift. Anyway, think crocodiles, think Sylvia, and maybe you can start to piece it together."

A: "Again? Dude, she'll find out one of these days."

B: "Hardly. She didn't notice the last three times. Anyway, it's not nearly as bad as that... that one time, y'know?"

A: "How could I forget."

***



Rule 5 
Silence is a golden opportunity. 
Use it. 


Just like we convey things with body language as well as speech, you can use silences and narration to fill in the gaps. This and of course your reader's power of deduction. This is the point at which you can craft the rest of the scene around your characters' dialogue. Think of it like putting the skin on a skeleton, or the filling in a pie if you want a more palatable analogy...

***

     "How's it goin'?" asked Brad with some hesitation.

     "Yeah, not bad thanks, bud. How about yourself?" replied Peter over the top of Brad's head, his eyes searching out something at the back of the room. 

     "Gettin' there... Good day so far?" enquired Brad rather pointedly, annoyed that as usual Peter couldn't bother giving him his full attention.

     "I'll tell you later, bud. I don't want this lot to overhear. It's so funny, but it's defo not for public consumption. This lot are a bit 'touché', if you get my drift. Anyway, think crocodiles, think Sylvia, and maybe you can start to piece it together." Brad stared at his brother for just a moment too long, mouth agape, before collecting himself.

     "Again? Peter, she'll find out one of these days." Because it was true, she would. Everyone would, and Peter wouldn't be the only one facing recriminations. By association, Brad would likely find himself seen as some sort of co-hort. 'Darn it.' thought Brad, as he quickly started to consider how he could put as much distance between himself and his brother in the shortest amount of time without drawing any attention to himself. 

     "Hardly. She didn't notice the last three times. Anyway, it's not nearly as bad as that... that one time, y'know?"

     "How could I forget." Neither man said anything for a while, but whilst Brad's silence was one of shocked embarrassment, Peter was visibly enjoying reliving the memory, much to Brad's chagrin.



***

And then so now, what we're left with is a much more interesting dialogue between two brothers. It's not stunted, we don't have any more information than is strictly necessary and we've got two very distinct characters. Mission accomplished! 

Obviously this is not a fool-proof method, but they're some pretty solid rules to follow, so you've got more than enough here to give you an excuse to dust off your quill and start scribing your next dialogue!

***

WEBOOK INTERVIEWS OUR WINNER OF THE AUGUST: TALK TO ME CHALLENGE

S_WilsonDisher obviously knows all of these methods like the back of their hand, and probably has some even better tips and tricks up their sleeve than we can give you here (believe it or not). So we thought we'd pick their brains in an interview and find out if we could get them to divulge their author-ly secrets to us... 


WEbook: Congratulations on being crowned winner of the August Challenge: Talk to Me, with your entry ‘Them Earthies'! The August Challenge was all about using dialogue in your entry, and also you also had to use one of three sentences we had given you.

What made you pick the sentence you used? Was it a matter of the sentence inspiring the story, or did you feel like you had to make it fit in to the story you already wanted to write?

S_WilsonDisher: This is a good question – I had no difficulty picking the sentence I wanted to use. It leapt out at me and immediately images of the people, the interior of the house etc., were right in front of me.

WEbook: Do you find that this type of prescriptive writing challenge is good for your development as a writer, or does it stunt your creativity too much?

S_WilsonDisher: I enjoy such challenges, for, rather than stunt creativity they make me think ‘Now what can I do with this?’. It reminds me of my teaching where I give kids a whole pile of scraps and glue, a theme and the instruction to make a Cerberus dog. Creative solutions arise which I could never have predicted.

WEbook: The ability to write dialogue is a crucial skill for a successful author, yet it’s difficult to deliver convincingly. The one moment every author strives to avoid is the awkward squirm of the reader as they read a wholly unconvincing line; how did you initially develop the flow of your dialogue, and does it go through any testing?

S_WilsonDisher: I try to get into the heads of my characters – for instance, Jesphaxia the young girl. I wanted to make her sound like my young girl students and how they would react to a funny ‘alien’ baby turning up in their back yard, and what they would so and say. Would they feed it? Of course they would. I make sure as I write that what the characters say is consistent with their personalities. In editing, I take out or rewrite any words or expressions which would be out of character. For this story, there were hardly any changes.

WEbook: ‘Them Earthies’ is a humorous, and somewhat philosophical, role reversal for your characters and us as humans. How did you come up with the idea?

S_WilsonDisher: I have been playing around with the notions of parallel universes since I was a young girl. I invented an ongoing story of critters which looked a bit like horses – stories I told to my sister when she was a little girl. She called them the ‘funny stories’. 


Now when she read ‘Them Earthies’ she burst out laughing and said she was back in Mom’s kitchen, sitting at the table as I washed dishes and told her a ‘funny story’. These characters emerged in my head around the same time. I even drew one or two for my class mates who were always interested to see what I would come up with next.

WEbook: Your story is very well paced. We at no point feel as though the reveal of information or a climatical point is being rushed. This is in part to do with your very natural use of conversational dialogue. Did you find yourself having to cut bits of the story out to fit the word count, and if so, how did you manage to mitigate the potential disruption this could have caused to the flow of your story?

S_WilsonDisher: Fitting the word count was not too difficult. I usually go back and take out any superfluous ‘ands,’ ‘thens’ and so forth. I usually find ways to truncate a sentence without losing the flow, choosing one word which would encapsulate the idea.

WEbook: What are you working on at the moment? Is there somewhere that we can read some more of what you’ve written?

S_WilsonDisher: I’m working on a major project triggered by an idea which has been in my in-tray for some time. It is a philosophical set of ‘books’ about the very race of people in ‘Them Aliens’. 

 The first story is set 200 years in the future, and centres around a young dancer who is fixated with some ‘Earthies’ he spots on his inter-plane ambassador father’s communication machine. While it is not humour as such, it contains a lot of humour arising out of the exchanges between the characters. But the underlying themes, are of the interaction between people on Earth and the other Plane, their philosophies and the arts. 

Each story overlaps, so that the reader is taken on a journey through five generations of characters, with numerous twists and turns, disasters, and plagues as the characters negotiate their way through the Time Passages and Divides which connect Earth with the other plane, Ezskiasia. If you'd like to have a read of the first chapter, you can do here.

I also have two pieces of writing which I’ve blogged but which are set firmly on Earth! One of them had its first draft on WEbook. ‘The Biggest Gravel Mound on Earth’ which has since been subject to some serious editing.

WEbook: Who are your favourite authors / books and how have they influenced your writing?

S_WilsonDisher: My favorite authors are those who have helped my craft my ideas rather than the ideas themselves. Australian writer Colleen McCullough, has been hugely influential both for her writing skills and her intellect (she was a scientist). 

New Zealand Modernist writer Katherine Mansfield is another for the same reasons. Somerset Maugham is a favorite for his craftsmanship and portrayal of his characters. New Zealand writers such as Janet Frame and Elizabeth Knox have played a major part for the reasons already given but also more importantly, in the way they are able to suggest the unseen without ever resorting to clumsy in-your-face descriptions. Oddly enough I usually read non-fiction, such as biographies, history and the natural sciences because they form the background, for the background (!) of my current project.

WEbook: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, and for giving such interesting answers! Best of luck with your upcoming entries in the monthly challenges, we certainly look forwards to reading them!

- Hannah from the WEbook Team

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