The Challenge of Dialog

Dialog presents an interesting challenge for me as a writer.

The conversation itself isn’t the problem.  My characters chat with each other in my imagination all the time, and as an auditory person, I hear them.  Inflection, tone of voice, peculiarities of pronunciation – all of it is in my brain.  By the time I sit down to write out a scene of dialog, I’ve run through it several times in my head.  The conversation itself is solid.

The challenge is making sure that it doesn’t turn into this:

“This is Colleen,” Mama said.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the woman said to the girl.

Mama continued, “And she’s called Moth.”

“Hello,” Moth said.

The words on the page do NOT do that conversation justice.  As in real life, there are subtleties to inflection, as well as facial expressions and body language, that are part and parcel of the interaction.  No one talks in just words; that’s why emails and internet comments can be taken so dramatically the wrong way.

Again, for me at least, it isn’t the content that’s the problem.  I can see Mama gesturing to the two women, hear the cautious tone in Moth’s voice, and picture the slight smile that makes Colleen seem just warm enough without being overwhelming.

The challenge for me is making sure that I interject the descriptors of expression and tone without interrupting the natural flow of the conversation.  In this sample it’s relatively straightforward, but in other cases (for example, when a teen is running her mouth and I want the reader to both appreciate the stream-of-consciousness of the girl as well as the reactions on the faces around her) it’s a delicate balance.

The sample scene above (which I pared down to its bare bones for effect) is the beginning of a dialog that is currently tossing around in my brain.  It’s the next scene for Blood Moon Born, the piece that is slated for the next Tuesday.

Once I get it done, I’ll share the improved version of the sample with you.

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