Books · Lessons from the Monster · writing

Lessons from the Monster: Dialogue

It’s time for another lesson on what not to do, ghastly mistakes courtesy of myself and The Monster. For anyone who has not already heard me bemoaning it, The Monster is a half million word long catastrophe of a novel, with which I’m fairly sure I made every mistake in the book of mistakes while writing.

Today’s topic? Dialogue! 

I love dialogue. It’s what makes a book a book. To me, anyways. It’s my favorite part to write and my favorite part to read. All those witty comments, pre-battle/inspirational speeches, and famous one-liners.

I would write whole books of pure dialogue if they would make an sense a’tall. I have yet to find the balance between it and description, but in the meantime, I’ve been having a blast with writing dialogue. And I’ve learned many do’s and don’ts along the way.

Dark Angel Rising (Book Five)

“What the hell is your problem?” I screeched.

“What the hell do you think you were doing?”

“Now you ask?” My voice was almost a scream. “You almost shot him, you dumbass!” 

Dialogue is a marvelous thing. When you can’t see a person’s body language, their words can usually get their point across pretty well. And ever since she could talk, Angel’s been pretty good about using her voice.

That, however, creates a problem. Words might show mental reactions, but it doesn’t show physical ones. And a lot of the time, I was using words to demonstrate reactions when I should have been using body language or actual action.

The two in that little exchange, Angelica and Hell, are the two most volatile, most-likely-to-have-a-smackdown characters in the entire book – maybe the entire series. But as far as the reader is concerned, they just stood there like wooden poles the whole time. Not good.

Lesson learned: As fabulous and as fun as dialogue is to write, it can’t replace action. At all. Give all parts of writing their due so that scenes are fully developed and easy to visualize.

Angel from Hell (Book Two)

“He made me steal it. It was for these people but then they tried to kill us and now they’re threatening to kill you. I barely know what’s going on myself. Hell just keeps telling me to do what he says, no surprise there, and if I keep arguing with him he’s probably going to string me up. I don’t know what’s on the USB drive or even how anybody knew about it in the first place. The person who Hell and I were working with – somebody named Jacobs – he told Hell that he was getting in over his head or something. Apparently this man, Jacobs’ boss, is some sort of international criminal. I know they really want the USB drive back and Hell told me that nothing was worth giving it up. He still has it with him, right now I mean. Before he looked at the files he was letting me hold it but I haven’t even touched it since Adam took off the security device. I kind of want to see if I can get Adam to open up the files again, if I can get the drive back from Hell, because I need to know what’s on there. I can’t keep just blindly following Hell, since he only cares about his stupid money. I don’t know how I’ll ever get the drive back from him, though.”

Um… yeah. That is quite the monologue. Keep in mind this was during NaNoWriMo, and I was literally just writing with my eyes closed, half asleep, trying not to lose momentum because I was a bit stuck.

It’s obvious what’s wrong with this. Unless you’re giving a speech, people really don’t monologue that long. The other speaker, in this case, Rihanna, would have gotten at least one word in, even if it was only half of a word.

In real conversations, words are going back and forth, sometimes at the same time. I know that my sisters and I often talk at the same time, listening and digesting words while sending out our own simultaneously.

Lesson learned: Remember to keep conversations realistic in the way that they’re put together. Monologues are a drag to read; besides, paragraphs that gigantic are daunting to the eyeballs.

Dark Angel Rising (Book Five)

He stopped and turned around, brightening. “Angel, I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Small world, huh?” I said sarcastically.

His smile dimmed. “I have the feeling you wish I wasn’t here.”

“You tell me not to tell anybody about you, then you prance in here as if the whole world already knew I was lying to my friends’ faces.”

Anatoliy scowled. “I was not prancing, Angelica. And I don’t believe I like your tone.”

“I don’t really care.”

“Would you like me to go, then? In spite of the questions I’m prepared to answer for you?” He lifted his chin, looking all of five years old. In fact, he almost looked as if he were about to cry.

My irritation vanished. How was I supposed to stay mad with him? He acted like a toddler. “Oh, all right. I’m sorry. What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” he said meekly. “You spoke to Hell, I presume? He’s incredibly angry with you.”

The way people talk says a lot about them. I’m not talking about pronunciation or even word choice; it’s the way they put words together.

Angel’s education was of the classical kind, for all of the two years of it that she received. Then it was the streets for her. Consequently, her way of speech varies from proper grammar to, basically, her own mangled dialect of the English language.

Hell is a genius. He knows several languages. He almost always refers to people by their full names, steers away from using contractions, and gets seriously irritated when people interrupt him.

Everybody in the novels developed their own certain way of talking, almost so you could tell who was speaking even before they were identified.

Everybody but Anatoliy. He has a precarious position in the midst of everything, is eternally nervous, and, although he’s barely two years younger than Angel, has the mind of a ten-year-old.

His way of talking was all over the map. First he’d be talking like that, in the excerpt above. Then he’d switch to a more Angelica-like way of talking. For awhile, he even sounded like Hell. It was kind of funny, but definitely a problem.

Lesson learned: Choose each character’s syntax and stick to it like there is no mañana. 

Phew! All done! You have my profuse apologies for this post being so late. It was only partly due to the whole wisdom-teeth-pulling; a big part of it was also just my being lazy.

I hope this post has been helpful 🙂

4 thoughts on “Lessons from the Monster: Dialogue

  1. Ah, I like this lesson! I’d sort of have to disagree with the need for more action, though, within the dialogue. The dialogue…at least for me, implies the action. From what I know of the character beforehand and then from how they speak, I can usually gather or imagine how the exchange would go down, or at least, how I like to see it as a reader…if that makes sense. Like with the first passage you used as an example.

    [“What the hell is your problem?” I screeched.

    “What the hell do you think you were doing?”

    “Now you ask?” My voice was almost a scream. “You almost shot him, you dumbass!”]

    I think you have an amazing skill for dialogue, it’s really interesting and definitely entertaining to read. But in here, for example, I don’t think you need anything more. You could even omit the “My voice was almost a scream,” because it that statement in itself sort of adds a bit of…distance, if I’m still making any sense…

    But anyway, in this scene, I can just picture Angelica (granted, I don’t know too much about her, but this is how I picture it anyway) flailing her arms in outrage as she’s screeching at him. And then Hell would be shouting and all frustrated. And then Angelica would have that sort of look of furious disbelief, of sarcasm at its very best, her voice in a crescendo to a full-blown scream, just that contorted look of rage on her face.

    Words in themselves imply a lot, especially in dialogue, and that one speaker tag is certainly enough. But it might just be a personal preference. Whatever floats your boat. Though if you would like to see a few scenes where the no-actions/full-dialogue thing works out well enough, in An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, there are a few um…rather important scenes fully implied through the dialogue itself and nothing more. They might’ve done better with a few action tags, but I think they were executed well enough.

    Nevertheless, I do agree that dialogue is a lovely thing and I do definitely love what you can do with it, how natural it all sounds. I think that the words can speak for themselves more or less, though. Just my two cents on it…though I sort of, um, rambled…Hope it made some sense…

    1. You made perfect sense, and I totally get what you’re saying. You got the scene fairly right, too! Minus Hell, anyway, because he’s more of a deadly quiet when he’s angry type of dude. Haha. But you picked up on Angelica’s madness right away, so I guess that little snippet did do its job 🙂

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