Cadence of Dialog
Dialog has a pattern unto itself. In fact, it has many patterns, each one depending on the character who is speaking. Depending on where your characters were brought up (city vs country, north vs south, US vs Canada, eastside vs westside) plays a major role in the types of slang that is used and how the words roll of the tongue.
Some readers will revolt if your whole story is written in the vernacular (writing the dialog as it sounds to the ear), so a consideration should be made about how much of the vernacular you need to use to get your point across. Is it enough to tell the reader that the character spoke in a slow, Southern drawl, or does it need to be reinforced every time the character opens their mouth with a "y'all" thrown in for good measure? Most readers are probably going to tell you that it gets old quick when you are using language that reveals your personal bias of what you think southerners sound like. It can be come transparent very quickly if you have only a short list of "southern" slang that you use. However, using the vernacular can be very effective when used to demonstrate a comparison between two different characters.
Writing good dialog means capturing the cadence of how people really speak. It is getting to the essence of what is being said without understating or overstating the content of the discussion between character. People rarely talk in complete sentences. When people know each other well enough, thoughts can be left unsaid because one knows the other so well, sentences are being completed in their heads. Being able to capture this in a way that doesn't leave the reader wondering what your characters are talking about is important if you want to keep your reader engaged in the story.
One aspect of cadence to consider is what is going on in the scene in which the dialog occurs. A casual scene like you might find during the beginning of a story or at the beginning of the rising action will also have casual dialog. Likewise, in a high action sequence, dialog should be sharp and quick. There won't be time for a long diatribe in the middle of a sword fight. Any repartee will need to be short and to the point.
Amount of Dialog
Besides capturing the dialog in a realistic way, it's also important to consider how much dialog is used and when. It's not always necessary or even appropriate to use dialog. It really should be used to enhance the story. Like exposition, if the dialog isn't moving the story forward or being used in a way to reveal information about a character or the character's inner thoughts or feelings, the setting, or the scene, it should be revised or removed.
There may also be times when not enough dialog is used. Writing dialog can be hard and some writers may shy away from writing it, but not including dialog can be detrimental to the success of an otherwise great story. Readers have come to expect a certain amount of dialog and will only accept a story without it in special circumstances.
Later this month, I will cover methods of tagging dialog (the "he said" portions of dialog), so for now, focus on the pattern and work out the grammatical corrections later.
Exercise: Review Your Dialog
Today's exercise includes reading through your dialog to see if you have any bad habits that need correcting. You may find only patches of dialog that need work, or you may discover you need to pay a little more attention to all your dialog everywhere. If the latter is your situation, take your time and review each conversation in your story with an eye on the following questions.
Tips for working offline or by hand:
If you want to work off-line, copy and paste the questions from this page into a new page called "Dialog Analysis" in the Developmental Edit section of your notebook. If you need help creating a new page in Microsoft OneNote, check here. Notice how content pasted from the Internet includes a hyperlink to the source webpage so you can return to the page in the future if you need more information.
DOWNLOAD: Dialog Analysis Worksheet
Return to the Table of Contents
Go to Day 19 - Eliminate Info Dumps