Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post from our Let’s Talk Dialogues series, we discuss how to shape and structure spoken words.
I kind of like corny jokes, especially ones involving nuns. I’ll leave the dirtier ones out of today’s blog – but the great thing about jokes is that they usually have lots of dialogue. Let’s take an old joke and turn it into story dialogue.
‘Waitress, there’s something in my soup, I think it’s a fly,’ I complained.
‘That’s not a fly, it’s a burned crouton,’ answered the waitress as she chewed gum.
‘I’m pretty sure it’s a fly. What’s it doing in my soup?’ I demanded, pointing to the bowl.
‘I think it’s doing backstroke,’ the waitress said.
The right dialogue for the right genre
OK, it’s pretty bad, isn’t it? I mean the dialogue and the joke. After some thought, here are some ways to make it read better. (The dialogue, not the joke.)
- Every line is structured the same – it’s going be the equivalent of a singsong voice on the page (i.e., annoying). We need to break it up a bit.
- The idea of a joke is to be short and punchy. Let’s make the dialogue work for it, not against it. If you’re writing an action-packed story, your dialogue should be action-packed. If you’re writing a drama, it can be more weighted.
- Oops, there are no dialogue tags. These descriptors add texture to the speakers. They need to give character, movement, style, the tone of the story. We can’t just add them in randomly.
- And the dialogue here could be a little more colloquial – it needs to sound like real people talking.
Source for cartoon
Waiter, there’s great dialogue in my story!
Here is what the dialogue could look like if we structure and shape it in the right way.
‘Waitress, there’s a fly in my soup!’ I jabbed a finger at the bowl.
She cracked a big piece of pink gum in the side of her mouth. ‘Nah,’ she said, ‘it’s just a burned crouton.’
‘It’s a fly!’ I felt my face turn red. ‘What’s it doing in my soup?’
She peered down for a closer look. ‘Backstroke?’
Look, don’t just listen
Many of us tend to focus on just the words our characters are saying in the story. This is good, but we also need to pay attention to how it’s going to look on the flat surface of a page. Structure doesn’t just give us a better-looking story; it also makes the experience more enjoyable for the reader. The reader must see it and hear it in his or her imagination.
If you enjoyed this post, you will love Talk Show — How to let your characters tell their story
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