How To Use Dialogue In Memoirs

How To Use Dialogue In Memoirs


Writers Write is your one-stop writing resource. In this post, we tell you why you need dialogue and how to use dialogue in your memoirs.

In a previous post, I mentioned that you need to write your memoir like fiction. You need to plot your memoir and re-create yourself as a character. You also need to describe settings and pace your story. And you need to use dialogue.

How To Use Dialogue In Memoirs

Dialogue allows you to show how people reacted to events in their own words. It shows readers what you were willing to tell other people in your story and what you chose to hide.

Real people speak directly to each other and even to themselves. Use this to show your story.

Do not be put off by trying to remember exactly what people said. Try to remember a few phrases used by the people you knew and weave these throughout their speech. The most important thing is to show your readers what they said.

If the people you are writing about are still alive, talk to them, and listen to their speech patterns. Remember that each person needs to sound different when they speak.

Why You Need Dialogue In Memoirs

Dialogue is the easiest way to show and not tell. Dialogue is an effective way to increase conflict, tension, and suspense in your memoir.

Internal conflict becomes external conflict when we begin to speak about it. You cannot stew in thoughts for an entire book.

You must make the people in your memoir speak because you are not writing an essay. You are showing how it happened. You are writing interactive incidents of your life and, unless someone locked you in a cupboard with no human contact, you conversed.

The Problem With Small Talk

It is important to note, especially in memoirs, that most everyday conversations have no point. They exist for the sake of appearances. They are made up of exchanging greetings and pleasantries. Small talk has a limited place in your memoir.

Functional Dialogue

Remember that dialogue is functional. It should:

  1. Reveal something about the person who is speaking.
  2. Pass information from one person to another.
  3. Instigate action that helps you to achieve the ‘goal’ of your memoir.

[If you want to know more about setting a story goal and plotting your memoir, we teach you how to do this on our Secrets of a Memoirist course.]

Body Language

Remember that body language is important. It supports the dialogue and ‘shows’ the characters in your story. If the people you are describing are still alive, visit them and observe them. Their body language habits have probably not changed that much over time.

Use Correct Punctuation & Tags

Include speech in inverted commas. Read: How To Use Punctuation In Dialogue.

Use dialogue tags, which are indicators of who is speaking, like ‘I say’ and ‘she answers’.

Remember that you should not clutter your dialogue with too many adverbial dialogue tags. These are adverbs that tell us how people speak, like ‘gruffly’, ‘harshly’, and ‘angrily’. Try to let the dialogue tell the story.

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a memoir, join our Secrets of a Memoirist course.

© Amanda Patterson

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