Thursday, May 29, 2014

Delia Latham: Dancing Dialogue, Part IV - The Final Dance

When push comes to shove, dialogue in fiction is just an author with the gift of gab. Right?


Dialogue can be the heart and soul of your novel; the make-it-or-break-it element in your fiction; the very life or death of your writing.

Or, in the lingo of this series on dialogue, the dance that makes the party unforgettable.

The past three weeks, we discussed the mechanics of dialogue: do’s and don’ts, how-to, and even a few examples. This week we’ll dance to a different melody. How about “It Had to be You”?

Why that particular song? Because whether your fictional dialogue is ultimately a success or a colossal failure depends entirely on YOU.
  • YOU put the words in your characters’ mouths.
  • YOU decide on the speech patterns, colloquialisms, etc., that those characters  portray.
  • YOU insert the action beats or dialogue tags.
  • YOU create each voice in every conversation. Those verbal exchanges between your characters can be riveting or hopelessly dull. It’s up to YOU.
  • YOU are the band. YOUR words, and in particular,   YOUR dialogue is the music. 

Here’s how you’ll make sure YOUR readers dance ‘til the song is over.

Create irresistible dialogue.
Don’t stop re-working a conversation until it captivates. If a reader is an eavesdropper listening in on a chat between your characters, she should be powerless to walk away mid-conversation.
Polish the gems. Ever thought about how a gem is brought to perfection? Someone takes a rough stone and taps at it until it’s perfect. I love the following from Brian Klems (Writer’s Digest):
We’ve all had those moments when we wake up and have the perfect response for a conversation that took place the night before. Wouldn’t we all like to have those bon mots at a moment’s notice?
Your characters can. That’s part of the fun of being a fiction writer.
Klems uses an example from “The Godfather.” A simple dialogue comparison, but the impact from the change is ginormous. This is the kind of tapping at a diamond-in-the-rough that produces a perfect gem! 

Moe Greene is angry that a young Michael Corleone is telling him what to do. He might have said, “I made my bones when you were in high school!” Instead, screenwriter Mario Puzo penned, “I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders!” (In his novel, Puzo wrote something a little racier). The point is you can take almost any line and find a more sparkling alternative.

As a writer, you have the liberty of letting your dialogue stew…then returning later to add the spice (that perfect come-back). Why on earth wouldn’t you do that?

      Keep it pertinent.
Omit chit-chat that has no reason to be there and has nothing to do with the storyline.
                    Leave out the fillers and fluff.
Keep greetings and good-byes brief, if you must use them at all.
Niceties, like “so nice to see you, "thank you” and “how are you” become stale long before the expiration date. Doesn’t mean you should never use them, but think long and hard before you do.

Make it sparkle.

The best movies usually have at least one line of dialogue that becomes synonymous with that title. Why? 

Because they're brilliant. They shine. They sparkle. They’re the perfect words at the perfect time.

  Let’s look at a few of them:

     "Easy, Miss, I've got you."
             "You've got me? Who's got you?"
     (Superman, the Movie, 1978)

“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)

Somehow, “Oh, man, I hate snakes” doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!" (The Princess Bride, 1987)

My oldest son shouted this phrase - awake and in his sleep - at least a hundred times as a child. Children only to that when they hear something that packs a considerable wallop.

"Face it, girls, I'm older and I have more insurance." (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991)

Oh, come on…you know you lo ved this scene. And if Kathy Bates had simply said, “Take that, teeny- boppers,” who’d have remembered it?

"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." (Groundhog Day, 1993)
Not one of my favorite favorite movies but I love this line. Love it!

“I see dead people.” (The Sixth Sense, 1999)
Priceless. Simple. Impactful. Blood-chillingly priceless!

"My precious."(Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, 2002)

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”(Land of the Dead, 2005)

Easy to see why these lines stand out in our memories. They’re short on words and long on punch. Every novel should be sprinkled with that same kind of fizz and pop.

By now, your mind should be full of possibilities. Your toes should be tapping to the melody of the conversations taking place in your mind.

That’s good, my writer friends. Now…write. Devise dialogue that dances right into the heart and mind of your reader. How many gems can you polish to perfection?

Take the challenge: Put a little Macarena in your mystery; write a reggae romance; salsa-tize your suspense; have fun with a fandango fantasy…. 

You get the picture. Get out there and rock your writing with dancing dialogue!

DELIA LATHAM is a born-and-bred California gal, raised in a place called Weedpatch and currently living in the lovely mountain town of Tehachapi with her husband and a spoiled Pomeranian. She enjoys multiple roles as Christian wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend, but especially loves being a princess daughter to the King of Kings. She has a "thing" for Dr. Pepper, and loves to hear from her readers. Contact her through her website or send an e-mail to Find her also at the following online locations:

Amazon Author Page


Rock your writing with dancing dialogue. @DeliaLatham #WriteRight!

"And what is the use of a book, without...conversations?" Dialogue in Fiction with @DeliaLatham

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