Dialogue can be difficult and writers can be unhappy with their results, they’ve been inside characters’ heads, they know what they want to say and they say it, then they play with those words of dialogue because something just isn’t sitting right – No matter what they do, something is wrong, something is missing and they just can’t seem to clinch it.
It might not be the dialogue at all that’s causing the issue. It might be something that should be surrounding it and is often forgotten by writers more concerned with the message contained in the spoken word. Communication has many layers, so if you’re having trouble with writing dialogue, have you considered including body language?
People don’t just yammer at each other. They move, they stretch, they raise their eyebrows, smile, laugh or frown, fold their arms, slouch, flap their hands around, or drink, smoke, eat. Dialogue often happens on the move, walking down a street, crossing a shopping mall, or in a car or bus.
Adding body language and movement can fill the scene and give the reader more than dialogue alone. You don’t want your readers feeling they might as well be listening through the wall because they are unable to see anything. You want them in the room, at the table, or out on the street or in the taxi. You want your readers to be there. So, what are they going to see if they were present? Who does what while all this talk is going on?
Naturally enough, you don’t want all your characters flapping and twitching and moving and hopping about, but a touch of it here or there can make a huge difference to a scene. It can bring the scene to life. Not only can it reveal some of what is around the characters talking, it can also reveal attitudes and demeanor.
A person slouching is bored. Someone fiddling with the salt shaker on a canteen table is fretful about something – possibly the conversation. A person slouching AND fiddling is bored and doesn’t like to be there. Kids bob up and down. They are full of energy and squeaks. A crowd is noisy. A waiter will take your order. There’s traffic on the road. There are distractions everywhere. Conversations might flow smoothly, but there also might be hiccups along the way as people pay attention to what is going on around them.
I’m not suggesting you pad it out or slow it down, nor fill out your dialogue with distractions. I’m simply suggesting that if you’re a writer who doesn’t like writing dialogue (and there are many who don’t), try it again with a sprinkling of body language and movement popped in. You might be surprised at how alive and real your dialogue becomes when in a natural setting.
Just food for thought.
Thank You. I very much appreciate this. I needed it.
You’re most welcome. It makes it fun, too. 🙂
Perfect timing! I was just working on some dialogue and felt like it needed something; so I added a bit of “body language” description and pow! Thanks for the helpful post!
Oh wow! I’m so pleased! Thank you telling me – Robin, you’ve made my day! 😀
I totally agree with you. To be able to pen a good dialogue, a writer must be a good observer.
Dialogues can be a pain in the rear for a writer. Sometimes I spend days reading the dialogues I wrote earlier because I’m expecting something to jump out at me. At other times however, it’s a smooth passage and everything falls in line. I also agree that body language and expressions are necessary not just to create the desired effect, but to help the reader tell what each character is doing at a particular point in time.
If I may add, another secret to creating a good dialogue is reading out loud what has already been written. I do that often.
Hi Uzoma! 🙂 I totally agree with you. It’s surprising what you can spot when you read a piece out loud. It’s a good practice to get into.
I enjoy the challenge of adding body language to a novel’s scene over telling someone was happy or sad. And yes, I dislike dialogue. Especially in my short stories.
I’ve found that adding body language and other small details makes it more fun. Dialogue on it’s own, no matter how good it is, never sounds real. It’s easy then for a writer to think it’s not good – when there might be nothing wrong with it, except it’s just lacking movement. Good to play with, anyway, as you can do so much with it.
Tags and such give me issues. I always leave them out of the rough draft and even after I add them in, I either over do it or don’t make it clear enough who is talking. We won’t even go into what they actually say. HA!
Ah, well that could make things tricky. 🙂 There’s definitely a balance to all of it. While I was writing this post, I thought what a nuisance it would be (and laughable) if I gave an example and overdid it and had EVERYBODY swinging their arms, flicking out their hair, scratching, doing cartwheels, pogo jumping… It got ridiculous in my mind. I decided it was better if people didn’t think I really wrote like that. 😀
Or leave off all the tags and have at least three different people talking. That’s my rough draft.
When it comes to rough drafts, as long as the writer knows what’s going on, nothing else matters. No one else is going to see it until all the bells and whistles are put on. That’s how I look at it, anyway.
Ditto here. I can keep up and that’s all that matters.
We need a thumbs-up emoticon. 😀
I like argument dialogue. Is that bad?
LOL. Heck no! Argument dialogue is great fun! 😀 I like writing Bad Guys, too. I think we all do. I know actors love playing villains, and writers are close kin.
I have never written an actual villain. My characters sometimes have shady morals but they aren’t evil. They do love to argue which is complete opposite of me.
Bad Guys don’t have to be evil. I think they work better when make their motives understandable, especially when readers end up liking them. Arguments are fun, though – in character, of course – I’m like you in that I’m not generally argumentative in real life.
This is exactly why I always pretend to be asleep when I’m talking to anyone. Make the bastards do some of the work themselves!
LOL! Well that’s one way of doing it! 😀
An excellent piece about dialogue. I think you’re right, adding the normal, natural distractions that happen during a conversation can really add depth to it and make the reader feel present.
Hi EagleAye – thank you. 🙂 Yes, it makes all the difference. It certainly adds to the realism.
Very nice post 🙂 . Body language is as much a form of communication as speaking. Other than when a character is alone, I think it works well to develop tension, when people are dying to hear someone speak and they won’t because they’re angry or upset.
It works right across the board – tension, anger, calm, happiness, excitement, boredom, etc., etc. It also allows for easy description of a location. Meaning this way you don’t have to stop the story to describe the room in detail, then stilt the story by having dialogue that comes across empty (because it’s lacking any movement). Mix them together and you have an easy flow with nothing stopped or stilted.
I’m going to cover this in more depth because there’s such a lot a person can do with it. Anyway, it’s fun. 🙂