“The problem with figuring out realistic, tight dialogue,” Piper continued, “is knowing your character. If you really know who your character is—what they think and how they act, it’s a lot easier to understand what they would say; and, then it won’t sound as forced.”
She adjusted her Mac and looked up at Kim. The sounds of the café came in as Piper thought it through.
“Well, if it’s your character, if you create them, wouldn’t you naturally know what they would say? I mean, shouldn’t the dialogue part be easy?” Kim still looked confused.
“Actually, not really. Dialogue is hard; it takes practice.” Piper looked around the café. “First, you really need to study dialogue, study people. How do people talk—how do you and your friends talk?”
Piper motioned toward the others around them, drinking coffee or eating, and both women glanced around the room.
“Once you’ve studied general dialogue—people around you, etcetera, you need to really figure out the characters you write. You have to know who they are, what they like, what motivates them, and what they would say or do in different circumstances. The more you know your characters and their motivations, the easier it is to figure out what they would say, and how they would say it.”
“Can I get you anything else here?” The young waitress interrupted, friendly and efficient.
“Actually, I think I’ll have another green tea, thanks. You?” Kim looked to Piper, as she pushed her empty mug toward the edge of the table.
“Uh, yes; I’ll have a latte this time. Thanks a lot.” Piper smiled at the young woman, as she cleared the cups from earlier. Both women moved their computers aside, to make room for the drinks.
“I’m still a little lost.” Kim continued, as they waited for their order. “Do have to know every character in your story. Can’t you just figure out the dialogue of ‘minor characters,’ you know: wing it?'”
“If you wing it, I think it doesn’t sound authentic, and your story suffers.” Piper continued, focused and excited. “I think a lot of dialogue is just pulled together, but good dialogue is worked out. You might not get to know your minor characters quite as thoroughly as your central characters, but you have to understand why they would say what they say, or do what they do, just the same. If it isn’t authentic, real, then the story won’t be as believable; it wont hold together. Dialogue is key, and the key to good dialogue—I believe, is knowing your characters as well as your story.”
Kim nodded in agreement, but still wasn’t sure she understood it, and Piper’s strong feelings about this element of writing. They’d been writing together on Tuesdays, for months, but their styles were different, and Kim sometimes struggled to grasp Piper’s passionate beliefs about style and form. Kim wrote from an instinctual place. Her writing was easy, for the most part, while Piper was very serious about the construct of writing, the rules, the arcs and details that were spelled out in so many books on writing. They both had strengths, Kim thought, and Piper was definitely better with dialogue.
As Piper turned to look toward the counter, Kim listened to the couple at the table beside them, noting how the woman stirred her coffee, absently, and the man pushed his hair back from his forehead. These mundane actions were exactly what Piper was referring to, the kind of things that made a scene more believable to readers. These were the the exact details Kim was working so hard to master in her own writing.
“Anything else?” The girl broke the spell, as she placed the hot drinks on the table
“No, thank you. Not for me,” Piper responded first, and looked to Kim.
“No; nothing for me either.” The girl smiled at Kim, and left a check on the table.
“I can take that whenever you’re both ready.” She nodded toward the slip of paper. “There’s no hurry, and just let me know if you’d like something else.”
Both women smiled at her as the waitress left the bill and walked away.
Kim stirred a little honey into her tea and glanced around at the other tables, noting the diners and what they were doing. Piper seemed to be lost in her own thoughts, playing with the froth of her latte, erasing the neat brown leaf that had been drawn in the foamy milk. Kim noticed that the woman beside them was now holding the man’s hand, the conversation appearing more intimate as they drew closer to each other, across their table.
“It’s so easy to look around and see the dialogue happening, note the ticks and movements that go along with the words,” Kim began again, “but putting that into a story seems so much more daunting when I’m trying to make it come to life on the page. I think I get it, until I try and do it.”
“That’s the trick, I guess, figuring out how to make what we see, work on the page. How to make the words we imagine our characters would say, and the things they would do, seem real and believable, without all of the characters sounding exactly the same. Dialogue’s a bitch, but when you get it, it makes all the difference.” Piper laughed, and pushed her latte aside, the drink still steaming.
Kim smiled wistfully, and took a sip of her tea. She needed to get back to work, and figure out how her character would say what she needed them to say. She reached for her Mac as Piper did the same. They arranged their cups to the side, and they both began to type again.
The clank of silverware against the simple white ceramic plates and mugs, and the smell of food filled the space. The bright sun shone through the unusually tall windows and the tops of trees outside cast their green magic on the view outside. Kim rested her fingers on the keyboard, thought about her character, and began to type.
The man said…
Note: As always, I welcome feedback. Leave a comment and tell me what worked, and what didn’t, for you. It’s been an exciting few weeks; I’m on a roll right now, with posts. More writing than usual… This is part of the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge; you can check it out here. This week’s theme: dialogue. The challenge is to write a post: fiction or non-ficition, that uses dialogue to move the story along. I wanted to play with this theme; this is fiction: dialogue about dialogue.