Writing Dialogue by Storyteller

Writing dialogue can be complicated if you try to stick to a rigid format. For example, if you are trying to make it clear who is saying what, you wind up with some dull adjectives, verbs that are passive for the most part, and a reader skimming as they realize who is speaking anyway. In our experience, if the dialogue between characters shows differences in “speaking” and different ways of speaking, it can be much easier than- ” ‘Okay,’ John said.” So how do you do it?

One way is to listen to people around you having a discussion, or even an argument. How do they speak? One with voice high-pitched and one with a lower voice? One shouting, one calm and subdued? Or both trying to talk at the same time, getting louder and louder to out do the other? Or the best to listen to is those who have different speech patterns. One could be from New England, while the other is from the Southern states. Fun ones are those with a burbling vocabulary and the “down-home” speaker. These make for interesting dialogue.

A problem with dialogue can come with trying to capture the different nuances of the speakers. If, for instance, you are listening to someone who has spent time in the state of, say, Mississippi, you need to write what they say in the way they say it. Capturing this means you have to HEAR their words, the way they say them, and translate it onto the page. John may say, “Did y’all see that there big ol’ turkey jes flying’ ’round like he owns the place?” That is how John talks. That lets your reader hear the way John actually speaks. If you choose to clean up John’s language because it doesn’t sound “right” to you by writing down “Did you all see that big old turkey just flying around like he owns the place?” you can lose the flavor of his southern drawl and his true speech.

Or if you are writing John’s words and he comes from the northeast, you might write, “Did ya see the turkey? Yup. Actin’ like he owns it all.” There’s a difference in speech, obviously.

It isn’t easy to capture slang, words cut off or elongated in different cultures, different environments, and requires true LISTENING. The trick is to get the sounds/words of these characters in you head–literally. When you hear them speak as you write, you are able to capture their essence, distinguish them from one another. As the speakers change, you have shown them changing without ‘he/she said’ at the end of every line of dialogue. Your reader is following the speech patterns without having to stop and figure out who is saying what.

Yes, you will have to refresh their memory by saying one person or another said something and it helps if you add how they wave their hands in frustration or bow their heads as they speak softly. But this adds dimension to your characters, makes them distinct and embeds them into your reader’s mind as you go on.

The best advice is to write as you listen, i.e., “y’all” vs. “you all” or “you guys” vs. “You-uns.” It is sometimes difficult to get the right sounds written out, but you can do it! Write down what you hear in your head from the person speaking. Stop and read it back, aloud. Does it sound like that person? If it doesn’t, play with it until you capture it. And if it all still eludes you, fall back on phonetics. Write it simply as it sounds phonetically and you will capture the unique speech you want your reader to hear.

Play with dialogue. It will enhance your writing and give you a deeper appreciation of the way people speak and express themselves! Have fun y’all, and you-uns out there, too!


Judy Kukuruza’s book “One Body, Many Souls” can be found on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2FuA241; Their website is at https://onebodymanysouls.com/. Their blog is at https://wolvescrowsandspirituality.home.blog.

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Choosing Topics to Write On By. J. Kukuruza

When we taught college classes, we assigned an essay a week on different rhetorical modes. After we had assigned a rhetorical mode for them to tackle, the first question was always, “What is the topic?” Our answer was ALWAYS, “Your choice.” This would elicit responses such as, “But we need a topic!” Or, “We were always assigned a topic to write on. I don’t know what to write about!” The frustration they were experiencing was obvious and always, again, led to the advice to pick something they were curious about if it were an explanation essay, or something they had a definite opinion on (if the essay were to be argumentative) that could be backed up by facts. As to a narrative essay–they should pick a time they remembered and write about it so that the reader would feel they were there, experiencing what the writer experienced. There would be much head-shaking and looks of discouragement–but they would try and most did an admirable job.

In your writing, the same thing should apply, we believe. It does not matter what genre you choose, it needs to be something you are vested in some way or another. What intrigues you, as a writer? What do you see, hear, experience that makes you want to explore further, write about?

If you feel like you are stuck in, for example, writing murder mysteries and cannot break from this mode, what else interests you? Can you weave a tale from seeing, for example, a homeless person with their dog, nothing more than a backpack, and wonder what that person’s story is? Plus, go one step further and watch, observe nuances, and then dare to talk to the person that you now THINK you know. They could help you write a different piece of work by their experiences, an editorial if you’re inclined towards journalism, a narrative, and yes, even a murder mystery. This may sound a little extreme to get a topic going, but think about it. If you are open to what is going on, how people feel or don’t feel, how certain things make an impact or can be shuffled off the shelves of your mind, you are now reaching new material, new topics, and developing new passions and desires to write about.

It is our opinion that there is no shortage of topics to be written about. Risk being open and human. If you want to write children’s stories, sit with children and listen to their stories, their interests. Talk to others who seem to share your particular fascinations with certain topics or issues.

It may seem we are being redundant but we truly believe if you watch–nature, people, animals–you will be afforded more topics and more in-depth material than you ever felt possible. One thing, as a side-note, that we find fascinating, is sitting in a waiting room anywhere, or a library and notice what people are reading, doing to amuse themselves. And many times, we wind up researching and developing topics that have personal significance to us. In short, the things to write about are there–You just have to see them, hear them, and put them into words.
Happy adventures in writing.

Judy Kukuruza’s book “One Body, Many Souls” can be found on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2FuA241; Their website is at https://onebodymanysouls.com/. Their blog is at https://storywritersthoughts.wordpress.com/.

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