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Crafting Climactic Conversation

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May 16, 2013 by Jen Cudmore

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One of my favorite things about being an author is writing dialogue, and it’s one of the first areas I attempted to master. So much of the story hinges on what characters say, how they say it, and who they say it to. Feelings are shared or hidden. Truth is revealed or repressed. Tension mounts and recedes.

The first writing class I ever attended was a session on dialogue taught by Renni Brown. I was captivated as she explained mistakes like detailing how the character spoke when the words themselves were enough to convey the feeling. She talked about the overuse of attributions other than the word ‘said’, and reminded us that sometimes attributions aren’t needed at all. Adverbs (cut the ‘ly‘ words!) aren’t needed nearly as often as they’re used and beats (what on earth was a beat?) should be varied in length and style. And most important of all, the conversation must further the plot; there must be a purpose for the dialogue.

That day I discovered there was much more to characters’ conversations than just saying a few words back and forth. I was so enthralled with her session that I immediately bought her book Self-editing for Fiction Writers. I’ve never heard anyone explain the ins and outs of dialogue better.

Crafting climactic conversation is tricky business but essential for good story-telling. What resources have helped you to write better dialogue?

 


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