This week author Carrie Nichols talks about dialogue writing. She has a new book out this month, The Hero Next Door.
Carrie Nichols writes small-town contemporary romances full of heart, home and humor for Harlequin Special Edition and Entangled Bliss. Carrie Nichols is a hardy New Englander who traded snow for central AC when she moved to the Deep South. She loves to travel, is addicted to British crime dramas and knows a Seinfeld quote appropriate for every occasion. Carrie has one tolerant husband, two grown sons and two critical cats. To her dismay, Carrie's characters, much like her family, often ignore the wisdom and guidance she lovingly offers.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Carrie-Nichols/e/B01D9P7X9I
TELLING YOUR STORY THROUGH DIALOGUE by Carrie Nichols
Dialogue is my favorite part of writing. Why do I love dialogue so much? Because if done correctly, dialogue can be the workhorse of your story. Dialogue can reveal character, backstory, answer story questions, add humor, or create sexual/romantic tension.
Dialogue brings characters to life on the page and makes them and the story emotionally appealing to the reader. It’s your job as the writer to make sure each line of dialogue deserves to take up space on the page.
I think this example from THE SHERIFF’S LITTLE MATCHMAKER illustrates how a few simple words can transform a dull conversation into something deserving to be on the page
“How do you two know each other?” Ethan’s gaze bounced between her and Remy.
“Miz Honeycutt’s my new teacher.” Evie sidled closer to Sasha, smiling broadly.
Ethan’s head jerked back, and his gaze landed on Remy. “She’s your cat lady?”
This one sentence “She’s your cat lady?” makes all the difference to this conversation. If Ethan had said “Oh, I see.” Or something equally mundane, then this conversation would have to go. But because of this little bombshell, can you feel the tension ratchet up? It transforms “hi nice to meet you” into something more. So, if you have a dull conversation on your page, look for a way to liven it up.
Dialogue’s purpose is to create tension in the present and build suspense for what’s coming next. I like to think this little exchange does both. Does Ethan’s outburst make you want to read on to see what will happen next?
Writing short or mid-length category (50,000 to 60,000) has its own challenges. That’s probably why it’s been called “Swan Lake in a phone booth or opera in a duffel bag” but dialogue can get to the heart of the story faster than exposition.
Here’s an example from my debut book, THE MARINE’S SECRET DAUGHTER:
"What about your parents? How are they?"
"Mom's in Seattle with husband number three and Dad's in Boca Raton dating women my age."
The hero’s one sentence answer says a lot about his parents. I accomplished in one sentence something that might have taken a paragraph of narrative exposition to explain. As you can guess from the title this is a secret baby book and this little bit of dialogue foreshadows what’s ahead:
Instead of eating the pizza slice in her hand, she laid it on the napkin. "Maybe she thought she was protecting you."
He released a noisy puff of air. "Short of abuse, there's no excuse for keeping a child from his or her father."
The combination of dialogue and children provide opportunities to add humor. An example from THE SERGEANT’S MATCHMAKING DOG:
“Theodore Andrew Miller, what do you think you’re doing?” The woman skidded to a stop, her pink-and-purple sneakers scattering pebbles. She gulped in air. “What have I told you about approaching strange animals?”
“But it’s not a strange animal. It’s a dog.” The boy scrunched up his face, and the tops of his brown-framed eyeglasses shot past his eyebrows. “See?”
Here’s another example from my as-yet untitled Special Edition scheduled for January 2023:
The woman dropped her hand from her mouth to rest again on the child’s shoulder. “Phoebe, why don’t you go pick up your crayons and put them away?”
The young girl crossed her arms over her chest. “But I want to know why Mitch made you mad.”
“He didn’t make me mad, sweetie.” The woman bared her teeth in what was probably supposed to be a smile, as if that would put some weight behind her words.
Phoebe tilted her head and pointed. “Then why does you got your mad face on?”
Dialogue can be used to create sexual tension. Here’s an example for THE HERO NEXT DOOR:
“Looks like you’ve got some fresh freckles,” he said, gently touching the bridge of her nose and lightly tracing across the top of her cheek.
She frowned. “I didn’t use concealer this morning. I was in too much of a hurry.”
“Concealer? What’s that? Some sort of makeup, I assume. Why would you want to conceal them?”
She gave him a look. “Because they’re freckles and I’m not ten years old.”
He reached out and touched the end of her nose. “I like them.”
Dialogue is naturally faster paced than narrative exposition. So, you can use dialogue to get things across without slowing things down with narrative. And if you haven’t already guessed, I try to use dialogue whenever possible.
And finally, my #1 tip for writing effective dialogue is to read it out loud!
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