24 October 2012

dialogue tips from a master

Never fear, we are working behind the scenes on the next issue of Electric Spec. I'll keep you posted with more info later.

In the meantime, I went to a conference this past weekend: MileHiCon, the annual Denver science fiction conference. Suffice it to say, the only place I actually talked to Editor Betsy was in the bar. :) We were both pretty busy with panels. Consider this conference for October 2013; it is really a lot of fun.

This year a highlight of the con was the dialogue workshop taught by Grand Master Connie Willis. Here are some of her tips (in no particular order):

  • Dialogue is not like real-life conversation. It's more concise. Omit all those 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' and 'ums.'
  • Don't use too many dialogue tags. Use as few tags as possible, without confusing the reader.
  • Authors shouldn't write more than about four lines of uninterrupted dialogue. No soliloquies unless your name happens to end in Shakespeare.
  • Characters should never talk about things they both already know. For example, a character should never say, "As you know, Bob, we've been married forty years."
  • The exception to the above rule is: unless it's in a fight. For example, in an argument you could say something like, "Bob! We've been married forty years and you've never once picked up your socks!"
  • Dialogue should serve a purpose such as moving the story forward, giving information, and/or contributing to characterization. The more it accomplishes, the better!
  • Create subtext in your dialogue. How? Use non-verbal communication to suggest something different from what the characters are actually saying. Willis used some movie clips as examples. In the 1966 film Walk, Don't Run a couple sits in the back of a cab. The woman talks about how wonderful her fiancee is, all the while gazing in infatuation at the man sitting next to her (not her fiancee). The man starts kissing her and she kisses back and talks about wonderful fiancee "Mr." Haversack. It's a fun and effective scene.
That's all I remember for now.
What are your dialogue tips?

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