Friday, May 8, 2009

Playing Dress-Up

IN THE NEWS: "Cow gets new home after escape from slaughterhouse". Read more here.

I confess. I’m a dialogue writer. I LOVE to write dialogue! LOVE IT! In fact, I spend most of my time with my dialogue. (As I did yesterday)

I'm not talking about spending time with plain dialogue, but spending time dressing up dialogue.

Why dress up dialogue?

Let’s say you made this fantastic dress. It looks really good on you, too. Got that visual? Good. Now, would you head out the door in just that dress?
Please say no. Please say no. Please say no.

No? Good answer! No, you wouldn’t just head out the door in a dress, because you need shoes. Cute shoes. Something strappy with a wedge heel. And you also need a purse. And earrings! Maybe a necklace. And if you’re anything like me, you’re going to need some Spanx, too. But I digress...

Anyhew, you see all this stuff you need with your dress to make yourself look nice?

Okay. Now, consider your dialogue as your dress. If you accessorize it, you can make it look and sound prettier. How do you accessorize? By adding action beats, dialogue tags, and sometimes even adding an internal point of view to dialogue.

Not every writer takes advantage of dressing up dialogue to give a character personality. And that’s fine. To each his own.

But...if your characters are reading flat, this could be an area you tinker with. :)

Here’s a section of dialogue from my book completely stripped of the bling.

Big Bens, why don’t you lead us in circle time?
“Uh…circle what?”
“Circle time. It’s great fun. You sit in a circle and sing songs.”
“Uh…maybe I should just continue to observe today.”
“Oh. Well, okay. Maybe tomorrow?”


Were you able to get the personality of the people talking? Were you able to understand what was unspoken in those words?

Well, here it is again, all dressed up and ready for the prom:

Big Bens, why don’t you lead us in circle time? Missy asked.
Her words jolted him back to the present, and he squinted as if that would improve his hearing. “Uh…circle what?”
“Circle time.” She giggled. “It’s great fun. You sit in a circle and sing songs.”
Oh, yes. That sounds like great fun. A real hoot. Thanks so much for including me. Who did she think he was, Mr. Rogers? “Uh…maybe I should just continue to observe today.”
Missy’s mouth formed a little bow. “Oh. Well, okay. Maybe tomorrow?”
No freakin’ way, sister. “Sure,” he said pleasantly.

He was calling his agent as soon as he got back to his apartment. Denise hadn't mentioned anything about belting out "Old MacDonald" for this gig.

Oh dear. Ben doesn’t have a good attitude about being in a preschool class. (Although he's trying to hide it.) But the dialogue alone isn’t enough to convey that. Showing his confusion to Missy’s question by him squinting added to the scene, also. He’s out of his element and he’s reacting to it--first in action and then in thought.

Sometimes it’s the little things that add to the bigger picture.

Of course, there is always a risk of over dressing. (Guilty) But that's another topic all together.

Do you enjoy spending time dressing up your dialogue?


beth said...

Sometimes, I spend too much time dressing up dialog! Typically, I dress away during the first draft stage. Then I take away a little in revisions. It's kind of like how you're always supposed to take off one accessory before leaving the house--I try to cut out a few extra dialog tags and such, since I know I add too much!

Chicki said...

I love writing dialogue better than anything else, but I need to pay more attention to adding internal thoughts and action beats. Your help will be greatly appreciated when you crit my Chs. 7-9. :)

Enjoy your weekend!

Terri Tiffany said...

Great example!! I usually write the dialogue and then go back and dress it up like you suggested--but I admit it isn't my strong point and I know on this book I will really need to work it out.

Kristen Painter said...

Almost always. Plain dialogue only works in certain situations.

Jody Hedlund said...

This is such a hard thing for me. I struggle to write crisply and cleanly as we're told we must! But then when we do that, we miss out on dressing things up! So, I'm working to find a balance.

Tess said...

I like your before and after example - good thoughts. It is a balance (for me) to dress up the dialog w/out distracting from the flow. Always working that elusive balance :)

Stephanie said...

Wow, never thought of it like that! I'll have to work on that with my WIP! Great article!!

T. Anne said...

Oh I love your lesson for the day! I'm implementing those in my writing when I edit. I must get better at those things...

Cindy said...

Oh, I love dressing up my dialogue. Usually when I write my book through the first time, I am just focused on the action and strictly the dialogue. That's why I love the first editing read through because that's the time I get to dress up the dialogue and really give the character's personality. I just did this with my WIP and added another 5,000 words. Woo hoo!

Joyce Wolfley said...

I love this post since dressing up my dialogue is something I struggle with. There's a rhythm to it, that I sometimes miss.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Cindy: Yes! Me, too. But 5,000 words! How awesome is that!

MsSnarkyPants said...

Oh dressing up is ever so fun! The darn show don't tell comments always make me feel like I'm doing something wrong though if I dress up too much!

T. Anne said...

Jennifer, I just posted my Amazon review! (my first) It was easy as pie. So quick write another book, it was totally fun.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Great post - I love the analogy of accessorizing! And I love dressing up my dialogue to the point where I have to sometimes remind myself that not every bit of dialogue needs to have something attached to it.