Witty, Pretty, Nitty-Gritty—Writing Dialogue that Captivates Readers

Dialogue is so crucial to good writing. If description was the skeletal structure of your story, then dialogue would be the organs, muscles, skin, hair, etc., that make your story come to life. Dialogue allows you to build tension, introduce conflict, show character growth, explore relationships, question the very nature of humanity…alright, let’s not get carried away. But writing captivating dialogue is essential to writing captivating fiction. Unless, of course, your protagonist is stranded alone on a deserted island for the entirety of the novel—in which case, I pity your readers, even more than I do your protagonist. But enough of that. Here are three styles that make for captivating dialogue:

  1. Delectably Witty

The greatest dialogue I have ever read, in my own small opinion, is found in the works of Austen. Jane Austen, that is, whose novels are renowned for their complex characters, endearing love stories, and of course, their witty banter.

Ouch.

Austen’s dialogue is fast paced and sparkling with life. Each sentence in her writing has a depth of meaning greater than the entire text of many novels published today. Her dialogue is fascinating, because it is brilliant. However, her dialogue is not only witty, but it is also realistic. That is why it packs such a punch. Clever dialogue, when done well, is a joy to read. Clever dialogue, when it is not done well, is an affront to the reader’s intelligence. If you are going for wit in your dialogue, I advise you proceed with caution.

  1. Enchantingly Pretty

Not all of us are Janes. Some of us are Williams. If witty, fast-paced, and clever, just isn’t your style—if you have a poet’s heart, and spend an inordinate amount of time staring at stars, flowers, or bodies of water, perhaps this style suits you best. Shakespeare, whose brilliant works have inspired countless adaptations, not to mention a hefty chunk of the English language, knew how to write beautifully.

Note, of course, that Shakespeare’s dialogue also contained a great deal of wit—which brings me to my next point. There is no real one style of dialogue. You are writing the things that characters say, that’s all. But infusing your dialogue with a little bit of pretty or witty can take your writing from the ordinary to the extraordinary. The key is to refrain from becoming cheesy. And how do you do that? By writing your character’s words, not your own. Dialogue is all about individuals interacting, and if you try to turn that into a display of your own wordsmithing skills, it will undoubtedly flop. Write not to pack in a clever punchline or breathtaking metaphor, but to carry on a conversation. And in doing so, allow your characters to create their own clever punchlines and breathtaking metaphors, as a part of the natural flow of conversation.

  1. Plain Old Nitty-Gritty

Sometimes, writing isn’t about charm or beauty. Sometimes, the only way to write realistically is to cut out all the fluff, scrap the grandiloquence, and stick to the heart of the matter. To write humanly. To write simply. But don’t think that getting down to the nitty-gritty will be easier than writing eloquently. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to write dialogue that is simple, honest, plain, and heartfelt. But it is also incredibly effective, when done well. It is important to avoid cliche here, and to focus on what’s important in your story, and what’s important to your characters. Don’t try to create drama. Just write down what happened. Then let the readers bring their own drama.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about captivating dialogue as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it! If you read young adult fiction, you can get my novel, Unsettled, here.

Love to all!

Baylie

How to Make Readers Hate You–In a Good Way

Writing a coherent sentence is hard enough. But writing an entire book made up of coherent sentences that also make people feel something…well, that’s a little more difficult.

As a reader, I find it vital that a novel be compelling. If a book does not make you think, or feel, or believe something, it is generally not worth reading. Compelling books are those books that you can read, over and over again, without becoming bored with them, books that go beyond exciting action sequences and dramatic affairs of the heart. Compelling books are the books that make you feel alive. Books that make you cry. Books that make you frustrated. Books that make you laugh. Books that make you so angry, you can’t sleep. Books that make you hate the author for writing a book so good that it ruined your life.

That is the kind of book that I hope to write one day. Not because I want to be the cause of someone’s ruin, or because I want to make people hate me. But because I want my writing to touch people. Writing is nothing but a waste of time and energy if it doesn’t have any effect on anyone. But how do you write a compelling novel? How can you make your words matter to people? How can you make your characters important to the tens of thousands of strangers across the globe who will one day, hopefully, read your novel?

The simple answer is this: you can’t. You can’t make anyone feel anything. That’s entirely up to the reader. Everyone who reads a novel will come out of it with something different. No matter how “good” your book may be, it’s still going to be the object of someone’s contempt. It’s still going to bore a lot of people. And confuse a lot of people. And quite a lot of people will never make it past the first chapter.

But what can you do, to make your writing more compelling?

  1. You can write from your heart

People are always saying, “Write what you know”. I say, write what keeps you up at night. Write what is burning in your brain, screaming to be let out on paper. Write what catches your attention. Write what turns your life upside down. Write what stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder. Yes, write what you know. But that doesn’t mean you should write about only what you know. If it did, there would be no such thing as fiction. Writing what you know means taking your own experiences and translating them into a world that you’ve created. It means not writing from what you’ve seen, but what you’ve felt. It means writing from your heart. Writing about what touches you, what infuriates you, what gives you peace, what breaks your heart. Writing about what you hope for, what people around you hope for, it means writing about the garbage in your life, it means writing honestly and openly, and it’s not easy. But it’s compelling, and it’s real.

  1. You can make it relatable

This is very much the same as writing from your heart, but it also means making your writing accessible. Open to interpretation. It means writing people that we all know—the loving mother, the grumpy neighbour, the weird uncle with a fetish for yellow polka dots. It means writing about the important things, the things in life that everyone experiences. Loss, triumph, fear, love, insecurity, success, the list goes on and on. A little green Martian can be more relatable than the average Joe, if you make him so. First write from your own life, and then make it connect to the reader’s life.

  1. You can make it so small, that it’s huge

We, mankind collectively, become easily jaded. If you write about a problem so large that it is insurmountable, we will easily forget about it. A war, a plague, an injustice…it can be the whole plot of a book, but if you focus only on the entirety of the problem, readers may just stop caring. Not entirely, of course, but we are quick to dismiss those problems in the world that have no personal significance. For example, when we think of poverty in the world, we know that innocent children will die every day from hunger. Yet, we’ve sort of come to accept it, horrible as it may sound. We know that we cannot save all of the children. So we just accept it, and move on.

However, what would happen if you were told that a single child was starving, and needed your help? You would feed them, of course. Unless you’re some kind of heartless, self-absorbed monster with no human compassion. You see, it is a part of our nature that when we are faced with the small problems, the personal problems, the tiny details—those things that we can fix—that we are most moved. Focus on the little things, and use them reveal the hugeness of the problem. Focus on the minuscule, the heartbreaks, the goodbyes, the baby birds who have fallen from their nest. Focus on the grimy, tear-streaked face of a little girl who lost her doll in a fire. Don’t just write about the bad. Write about how the bad destroys the world of the innocent. There is nothing more compelling than that.

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve gained something. Happy writing!

Love to all,

Baylie

Choosing the Colour of Your Story’s Spectacles—How to Use Point of View in Writing

To me, point of view is something that tends to decide itself. When a story has developed in my head to the point at which it can begin to leak out of my brain onto paper, I have usually already decided what point of view to write from. However, I have also, on occasion, begun writing from one point of view, only to change my mind part way through. This makes for a lot of rewording, rehashing, and rewriting. To avoid such a situation, it is wise to ascertain, before you begin writing, what point of view will best carry your story. Using the correct point of view is essential to your story, and yet, there is no real “correct” when it comes to perspective. It is, entirely, a matter of choice, although it can be difficult to tell the story of one character’s experiences when you are trapped inside the mind of another. The point of view you choose to write from will ultimately colour your tale, influencing where the plot leads, and perhaps more importantly, doesn’t lead. Point of view is the lens, the spectacles through which your story will be viewed, and you get to choose if you want them to be rose-coloured, or very limited in view, or everywhere at once, making them the first pair of omniscient spectacles to ever be created (I’d like to see such a pair).

There are many variations and stylistic choices that can be made regarding point of view, but here are a few basic structures:

First Person (I)

Written from the perspective of a single character, this point of view is used most commonly in young adult literature. Your story unfolds entirely from the viewpoint of a single character, typically the protagonist. This perspective is difficult to write from, as everything must be related from the mind of a single character. Character voice must be strong and intact, and the author cannot, under any circumstances, sway from that voice—which may become a problem, especially if you decide you want to tell readers about what’s going on on the other side of town. But this perspective is very intimate, and really allows you to get inside a character’s inner workings, which is why I chose it for my first novel, Unsettled.

Multiple/Changing

If you want to write from a deep point of view, really getting inside a character’s mind, but you need to get out once in a while and follow a different path, this may be for you. Switching between characters, while tricky to handle, can be very effective. Changing perspective with alternating chapters or some other definitive marker for readers to identify will allow you to experience the story from multiple perspectives, while still writing from the first person point of view. One of my novels-to-be-written, once I’ve finished the Reset series, will be written from multiple points of view in the first person. This can be done in many different ways. The story can be told sequentially, as experienced by different characters, or multiple seemingly unconnected plots can be woven together. There are many different ways you could go with this. Just be careful that you’re not simply switching voices—you must also be switching minds. You must write each character with a completely different way of thinking, and this is exceptionally difficult. It can also result in chaos, if your readers become overwhelmed and confused by frequent, poorly-executed perspective changes.

 Second Person (YOU)

This is generally the least used point of view in fiction. Second person point of view is told from the narrator’s perspective, addressing another character, or the reader, as “you”. I am currently writing in the second person, but just in case you’re still not sure what I mean, let me give you an example:

“You are currently reading this blog post. You are in great danger. If you believe that you are being watched, immediately drop to one knee and begin proposing to the nearest passing stranger. When it is safe to do so, continue reading the contents of this post. If the danger does not pass, attempt to rip your computer into small pieces and eat them. These words must not fall into enemy hands, understand?”

This perspective is generally used in “Choose your own adventure” stories, although it has been used in other fiction, albeit sparingly. It is generally avoided in fiction because it, well, it’s a little jarring to readers, and while it can be effective, it’s a little off-putting to be told that you, specifically you, must eat your computer. Most of us don’t particularly like the taste of computer circuitry. I know I certainly don’t.

Third Person (THEY)

Limited

Third person limited is quite similar to first person, however, there is one key difference. First person is written from the perspective of a single character. Third person limited is written from the perspective of a narrator—that’s you! Therefore, while the inner thoughts and feelings of one character may be related by the narrator, you are free to provide information and insights that are not the personal opinions of that character. “Limited” simply means that you are stuck to that one character—you won’t be able to divulge the thoughts of all your characters, only those you’ve chosen to follow. Much of fiction is written from the third person, as it is a very effective point of view from which to drive the plot and is both engaging and non-threatening to readers.

Omniscient

Third person omniscient allows you to, basically, do whatever you want. You know everything, see everything, and tell everything. The thoughts and feelings of any character are fair game. You are no longer bound by time, space, or any of the laws of physics. You basically get to say whatever you want to, which sounds pretty great, although it can be rather challenging. Switching between characters, settings, etc., can be a little overwhelming for both writer and reader, and while it makes it easier to say whatever you want to say in order to get the story moving, it may distance readers. Without any sort of compelling connection to the characters and story, readers may find this perspective lacking.

Well, have you decided? Hopefully you didn’t take me seriously in my example about writing from the second person, because if you actually went and ate your computer, you’d have no way to finish this article, and that would be a real shame. Also, you’d probably need some medical help, though I don’t know what kind of specialist they’d bring in for that one. Mental help wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Hopefully, now that you know all about point of view, you’re ready to write a bestseller!

Love to all!

Baylie