Eagle Designs
DiAnn Mills

Award-winning author DiAnn Mills is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn’s first book was published in 1998. She currently has more than fifty books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also the Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Website: www.diannmills.com

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Writing Witty Dialogue, Part 2

Successful writers understand that dialogue focuses on conflict, the life and breath of every novel. Kempton states that dialogue can be indirect, subtle, and ambiguous. Sawyer says that dialogue should be tight, realistic, original, unexpected, authentic, and rhythmic. Both are tough measuring sticks! Take a look at Jesus’ dialogue. Was He direct, or did He raise questions in the minds of listeners? Did He pose situations that left others speechless? Frustrated?

Writing witty and effective dialogue means being true to the story’s premise and theme. One consideration is composing dialogue according to genre.

Fantasy writers can invent words and make the story magical. Dialogue can be poetic, even sound romantic.

Romance writers use poetic and flowery language. The characters see the world in unexpected beauty, and unlikely characters can be humorous or giddy.

Horror writers use dark words and hard consonants to frighten the characters and the readers.

Suspense writers want to snag the reader’s breath. The characters are surprised, verbally or physically attacked, or sense something is about to happen.

Historical writers use era and setting to play a vital role in what’s being said and word choice. Through language, culture is an important vehicle in communicating values and responsibilities.

Contemporary writers keep up-to-date on language, technology, setting, and nuances that dress a contemporary character.

Contemporary Young Adult writers understand youth are immature and inexperienced. The dialogue is raw, edgy, blunt, honest, and lacks subtlety.

Dialogue that says what the character means and nothing more is boring. That’s when the writer reaches for a special technique called subtexting. This is all about the real conversation between the lines of the written dialogue, the internal and highly emotive exchange that doesn’t reach the page. This is an important tool when characters are forced to communicate, work together on a crucial project, or live in an environment where they must get along. We aren’t always completely honest with ourselves or others, which sets the stage for subtexting.

Francine Prose wrote, “. . . dialogue usually contains as much or even more subtext than it does text. More is going on under the surface than on it. One mark of badly written dialogue is that it is only doing one thing, at most, at once.”

The following fifteen tips will help the writer compose witty dialogue.

1. Word choices and gestures establish who is speaking.

2. State an occurrence once. Show the response but not what was stated. The reader understands without repetition.

3. Use italics sparingly for punch/emphasis/direct thoughts. Each time italics appear, the reader has to make an adjustment. This throws the reader out of the story, and a writer’s goal is to keep the reader glued to the page.

4. The best dialogue is when two people enter a scene with different goals. For example: she wants to find out if he really loves her; he wants to find out if he can break their movie date so he can go hunting.

5. Avoid repeating characters’ first names. When clarification is necessary, a pronoun is more intimate.

6. Avoid having the character explain: RTUTE—resist the urge to explain. Dialogue that is written to show a writer’s research is obvious and distracts from the manuscript.

7. Always be listening: restaurants, family dinners, crowds. Keep a notebook and jot down witty, unique dialogue.

8. Be willing to condense and be concise. Avoid adverbs.

9. Use “said” only as a dialogue tag. “Said” is an invisible word used to clarify who is speaking. This includes interrogatory sentences. The question mark shows the reader the type of sentence.

10. Avoid semicolons in dialogue. We speak in phrases and short sentences.

11. Limit exclamation points. Use word choice, body language, and the mood of the setting to show emotion.

• “Someone is after me.” Anne raced to the door.
• Punctuation in dialogue can be a problem, but a review of an English grammar guide will help the serious writer.
• Punctuation is placed inside the quotation marks. “I want to read a novel.”
• Use a comma before the quotation marks if a tag is used. “I want to read a novel,” Anne said.
• Use a period inside the quotation marks if the sentence is complete and action is involved. “I want to read a novel.” Anne pulled a new book from the shelf.
• Use a period after action and before the dialogue. Anne pulled a new book from the shelf. “I want to read a novel.”

12. Some writers believe that for their dialogue to be authentic, they need to misspell words to sound regional or with an accent. This distracts from the context of the dialogue.

13. Write so the English reader understands perfectly what is being said.

• An occasional dropping of the letter “g” is permissible.
• An occasional “ya” instead of “you” is permissible.
• Avoid odd spellings of words.
• Fad or trendy speech patterns date your writing. Be sure this is the affect you desire.
• Ethnic speech may insult your reader.
• Regarding foreign spellings: Type the word or brief phrase once in italics followed by the English meaning. The second time it is used, type in regular font. Use foreign words sparingly.
• If in doubt, check the Chicago Manual of Style.

14. Vulgarity is a controversial topic in Christian publishing. A writer can state the character cursed or swore; the reader will understand the tension in the passage. This is an opportunity to incorporate metaphors and similes without writing colorful language.

• His outburst sounded like a sailor on steroids.
• I hadn’t heard such language since my barroom days
15. Read the dialogue aloud. Voice-to-text software allows the writer to hear what is being said.

Eliminate extraneous words to compose what needs to be communicated. If we wrote dialogue the way we talk, we’d sound like morons. Properly written, the writer can move the reader to laugh, cry, be angry, cheer―a gamut of emotions.

Pacing is key. To speed up the scene, eliminate gestures and action and let verbal communication fly! When everything around the POV character fades, the only thing that’s important is what’s being said. It’s about balance and writing witty dialogue.


The Chase