Can We Talk?
Dialogue is far more than words inside quotation marks…
by Rob Walker
What’s just as important as what your character says? What do you need concern yourself with as you craft dialogue other than just the dialogue? Let’s start with the face.
Whose face? Why the face of the speaker and the features of the other speaker as dialogue means two logues, not one. Facial expressions and features are a starting point. Squints, ticks, licking of lips – it all becomes part and parcel of how it all comes off the page like life itself or remains on the page like a dead, dehydrated piece of road kill.
In other words, now that we know so much about non-verbal communication, it is incumbent upon us writers to think of using three non-verbal “triangulations” just as we would triangulate at least three of the five senses in a scene.
In a dialogue scene eye contact is huge, facial expressions, big, sounds, sighs, rolling eyes, as well as gestures and even how a character sits, legs crossed or not, and how he stands, firm or shaky. Posture and proximity. These are all key to making dialogue action rather than feeling like inaction.
So what does science tell us about body language? Here is a pretty good list of items that I use as I write:
Non-verbal signs of Cooperation:
Standing with feet apart, head tilted high.
Uncrossed legs and arms
Open arms and palms out
Finger to face (as opposed to hand covering face)
Hand covering mouth or shading eyes
Need for reassurance:
Sucking on pen, pencil, glasses or other item
Cuticle picking, biting nails
Hand to throat
Hands in pockets
Hands locked at back
Hand rubbing back of neck
Body twisted away
Stalling for time by cleaning glasses, pipe, rearranging, etc.
Hand to cheek
Hand over nose
Rapid eye movements
Affirmative head nods
Rubbing hands together
Interim phrases of agreement or acknowledgement (Eh? Uh-huh? Hmmm, oh, etc.)
Leaning back (as opposed to forward)
Hand covering mouth
Peering over top of glasses
Crossed legs, arms
In other words, it is as important to see/hear what a character says but just as important to see and hear what is going on between the spoken lines, alternating with interesting actions the character is involved in and engaged in. This keeps the dialogue interwoven with the action, and the action engaged while speakers speak. Action should not end when a character opens her mouth. Same as with thinking; we are in real life normally involved in multi-tasking as we are thinking, no? Same as when speaking. Your dialogue needs to walk; your dialogue requires legs. When the man says, “Lights, action, camera” include in that list “dialogue” but dial it UP!
My latest madness is found via google at Dirty Deeds – Advice where you can keep tabs on the work in progress – Curse of the Titanic, or google Write Aide, or check out his blogs at www.makeminemystery.com
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