Speakeasy reads a lot of blogs, but we’re particularly drawn to the thoughts of Australian Society of Editors Chair, Dr Anita Heiss. That woman is unstoppable! In June this year, she attended the 2008 Black Writers Reunion and Conference, and participated in a workshop with author Jewell Parker Rhodes. She picked up this list of tips on dialogue along the way. Dialogue is a tricky thing to capture, but crucial to the progression of the narrative. This list is so handy, we had to share.

1. Dialogue has to advance the story – advance the plot.
2. Dialogue shows the character.
3.Dialogue gives an immediacy and intimacy with the story and characters and helps to show tension and conflict. It brings tension off the page.
4. All actions / reactions / gestures between characters will exist between dialogue – turning backs, rubbing hands and raising arms are the gestures that go on during dialogue.
5. Diction must match characters. Each character must have idiosyncrasies that affect their rhythm of speech.
6. When you add a tag like ‘He said’ you take the reader out of the immediacy.
7. Readers should be able to know who’s saying what by the style of the diction.
8. Most good dialogue is about the subtext – what’s not being said (between the lines).
9. Create the dialogue on the page so it comes alive.
10. Pretend that you are writing for the stage and it will improve your dialogue.
11. What is the power display during dialogue – are characters standing or sitting?
12. A character is: what they say / how they say it / how they react and how they think.
13. A whole lot of dialogue in first person is a monologue.
14. Even a 1st person monologue (dialogue in a solo voice) needs emotional restraint / tension / diction and structure.

From the workshop ‘Writing effective dialogue: the key to great fiction’ with Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of four novels. Presented as part of the 2008 Black Writers Reunion and Conference.

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