Yowsa. 532 entries so far! Please continue to enter until 5:00 PM today in the preposterously magnificent original thread. Also, if you are having trouble locating your entry, please keep in mind that Blogger has instituted a new system for long threads. At the top and bottom of the comments threads you’ll see links that say “newer” and “newest.” You’ll need to click through those to see the comments that have been entered most recently.
Please please take care not to enter more than once. When I’m reading I don’t realize it’s a repeat until I’m part-way through, and then, that just makes the reading time that much more lengthy.
So what makes good dialogue good anyway?
I’m beginning to have some concrete ideas about that question, but first, my client Jennifer Hubbard (author of the forthcoming BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD) has a really awesome post about dialogue that I highly recommend.
One of Jennifer’s key insights (I’m paraphrasing) is that dialogue does and doesn’t sound like actual conversation. I think that’s spot on. If you were to transcribe an actual conversation between two people it would be full of stops and starts, missing words where people simply know what the other person means… conversation is messy. Good dialogue on the page, on the other hand, is something a bit different.
So the “Wait, what’s?” and the clarifications and the back and forth rhythm of actual conversation should be, in my opinion, used very very cautiously.
Jennifer also points out that dialogue can sound forced when it carries too much exposition. Also good advice!
The other thing I’m noticing about dialogue is that it is most effective when it is very clear it is the voice of a very particular character or characters saying the words, rather than words that could be said by anyone. Everyone has their own way of speaking in real life, but with dialogue on the page it seems even more important to counter expectations, to avoid cliches, and to make it sound original.
But hey — don’t take my word for it. What do you think makes good dialogue good?