Saturday, 8 September 2012

Hey you - are you talking to me?

Hope that got your attention. If not, well I guess you're not reading this anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Today I'm going to be talking about talking. Or talking about dialogue to be more precise. Yes that's right, I'm actually going to talk about writing for a change. Even I've had enough of all that complaining and whinging. So, here goes...

I love writing dialogue. I reckon writing dialogue is my favourite  part of the whole writing process. You can take your flowery descriptions, or your heart-stopping action. I'll happily write scene after scene of nothing else but people talking to each other. Come to think of it, there are a couple of short stories I've done which pretty much contain nothing else except dialogue. They're rather good too, if I might say so myself.

Am I short changing readers with my focus on dialogue to the detriment of the other components of story? Not at all, in my opinion. As a reader, dialogue is my favourite bit as well. I'll skip over long passages of description. I'll even yawn at action scenes that are meant to excite. I'm always in a hurry just to get to the next bit of dialogue. And given that the first person I'm writing stories for is me, it makes complete sense for me to take that approach.

Of course, that doesn't mean I completely neglect the other aspects of the story. Beyond the short story form, it's pretty much impossible to write nothing but dialogue. And there have been times when I've been rather pleased by a descriptive passage or a bit of action I've just managed to compose. But dialogue is still the best bit. It's how characters get to show who they are, and the way they bounce off each other is the way relationships are established and plot is progressed.

I'm really inspired by some of the great dialogue writers, the ones who can really make their characters come to life with distinct voices. Dickens is one obviously example. Another less obvious one is J.K. Rowling. In all the talk about the success of Harry Potter, one thing I think that is often missed is how good she is at voicing her characters. But my big inspiration is Douglas Adams. I love how, especially in the first two Hitch-hikers books, the dialogue just zings off the page. A lot of it was originally written to be performed via the original radio series, and it shows.

I don't know if I could ever reach the heights of some of those masters but it's something to aspire to. When I write dialogue, I try to hear it in my head. I try to imagine how each character will sound -  sometimes I'll even make notes to describe it, e.g. this one sounds like a TV gameshow host, while another sounds like an overly hammy British stage actor.

Sometimes it's a tricky thing to get right. Every line has to serve some sort of purpose to the bigger story, whether revealing character or plot (hopefully both together) while also sounding natural and unforced. I suppose it's up to my readers to decide whether I achieve it or not. But it's certainly fun to try.


Scribbling update


Speaking of dialogue, there's an awful lot in my new novella, Scribbling. Scribbling is a sequel (of sorts) to Doodling and features more of the strange and unexpected adventures of Neville Lansdowne.

Currently, it's in the final stages of editing so hoping to have it available in late October/early November. Keep posted here for more news. 


  1. Have you ever considered writing a play? I’ve written three if you count the one I did when I was about twenty. Also the fourth section of my novel The More Things Change is entirely in dialogue. There are also a few novels out there written completely in dialogue like The Session which I review here. (I also list a few other dialogue novels in the article.) Readers need very little in the way of description to get by. I’m using less and less these days. Description slows down the action. It’s odd because in film it’s dialogue that slows down the action.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I've actually written a lot of comedy sketches for both theatre and radio - in fact that was how I started as a writer. I think that's how I first fell in love with dialogue.