Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?

Dialogue is a powerful tool in writing your memoir:
  • It invites readers into your story,
  • it lets them participate in your experience,
  • it acquaints readers with a character’s personality, values, perspective, and attitude,
  • it can offer readers noteworthy information,
  • and it can provide readers with backstory—significant events from the past.

But writing dialogue can be tricky. How do you reconstruct a conversation from 50 years ago, or even five years ago?

You can’t—at least not 100 per cent accurately—because, unless you wrote it down at the time, or have a recording, you must rely on memory, and we all know memory has a way of making everything foggy.

And yet, if you call your book “a memoir,” you claim you’ve written a factual story (not fiction), and you’re promising readers they can trust you to tell the truth. So how can you use dialogue if you don’t remember the conversation precisely?

Here’s how it works: Both memoirists and readers know it’s impossible to be exact about a conversation that happened long ago. A memoirist’s job, then, is to recreate that conversation as honestly as possible—to write in such a way that readers understand the dialogue represents the conversation's true message. Determine to avoid misleading readers in every detail.

So then, use accurate dialogue, and craft it well.

Write dialogue that sounds natural and unforcedlike something you’d really hear.

If a character speaks in incomplete sentences, or if those involved in a conversation interrupt each other, or if they finish each other's sentences, write your dialogue that way: Keep it real.

If a character is hoity-toity, write dialogue showing she’s self-important and puffed up.

If a character was raised in a genteel household, write proper, courteous dialogue for her.

If he is an intellectual, choose words an academic uses, but if he grew up on a Missouri farm and didn’t graduate from high school, choose words he’d typically say.

If she grew up in Texas, her vocabulary differs from that of someone who grew up in Quebec. 

If someone habitually starts a sentence five times in five different ways, work that into your dialogue a couple of times to reveal that aspect of her personality, but otherwise eliminate those false starts.

Remember the wise old rule: Write tight. Leave out unnecessary talk—greetings, chitchat, and small talk—anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

“In writing dialogue don’t write every word,” says Nancy Ellen Dodd. “For one, that would be boring, and two, it slows down the pacing. Write what is necessary to get the point across. That being said, you may have a character who is verbose and a character who barely completes a thought…. Keep dialogue brief and cut unnecessary words, unless the character is verbose.”

Cecil Murphey says it this way: “In real life, people speak in general, long-winded diatribes, or mention twenty things before they focus on what they want to say. In print, we need to delete the clutter and get to the point.” 

Here’s more wisdom from Cec: “Make your characters speak less than people actually do, …and speak more the way real people wish they spoke.”

After you’ve crafted a passage of dialogue, set it aside for a week or two and then read it aloud. Your ears and tongue will help you find spots that still need work. Keep polishing until you’re happy with it. In the end, it will be worth all the effort.

Spend a few minutes reading Jennie Nash’s excellent post, A Little Lesson in Dialogue.

Next Tuesday we’ll look at other aspects of dialogue so c’mon back!

No comments:

Post a Comment