Creative Series III: Dialogue, Breathing Life Into Our Characters and Stories

group-1825509_1920Dialogue is how we can allow our characters to breathe life into our story.

It is important to allow our characters to “own” their part of the printed page. What do I mean by making this statement? What happens when we do not allow the voices and images that we have in our minds and creative memory to “own the page”?

Let’s take a look at a sample story, by studying some old work I have not touched for a very long time. I have copied and pasted an excerpt from a chapter I worked on almost 25 years ago.

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     The town was quiet as Talia and Anise walked to the inn.  Nate greeted them as a father would have welcomed part of his brood.  “Talia!”  A deep bass voice boomed out across the room. A tall, large hulk of a man with thick eyebrows, thick moustache and even thicker mop of hair laid a towel down on the bar he’d been cleaning and approached the women in two steps. The tall man gave her companion a warm hug. He turned to the princess. Despite her elaborate disguise, he deduced what she was in less than a minute.  “And who is this?  She looks of royalty, but I’m wondering where her escort is.  Are you both in trouble, lass?”  Talia smiled and nodded.  “Nate, this be the princess, Anise.”  He grasped her hand and shook it violently, then pulled her close to him, a hug strong enough that Anise felt as though she’d been waylaid by a bear.  “Welcome to Forth, princess.  My name is Nate, I am the town’s innkeeper and leader.  May your stay be a pleasant one.”   Talia smiled, saying “We need to find Kalen, Nate.”

     Nate’s eyebrows raised.  “What happened? Why are you looking for Kalen?  Is there something we need to know about Laifetre’?”  Talia nodded.  “Yes,” she replied quickly.  “It’s finally happened, Nate.  Matrime has declared war on Laifetre’ and will attack us soon.  The problem we got is that much of the army is gone.  We’ve only a handful of the royal guard to protect the king.  They demanded the princess be wedded to that dog of a prince, Gerenoux in exchange for peace.”  Nate’s eyebrows seemed to furrow into a single line as he pondered the implications of a war with Matrime.  “I thought that Matrime had no army,” he said slowly.  Talia nodded again.  “You’re right, they didn’t until a year or so ago,” she said, choosing her words carefully.  “It’s said that King Hautered closed a deal with the King of the Trolls, and that he’s got a huge troll army behind him and his men.”  Nate’s face suddenly turned red with rage at the thought of trolls overrunning the countryside.  “Then we’ve all got to fight for King Rosenet!” he roared, slamming his fist down violently on a nearby table.  The entire inn seemed to shake with his wrath as he disappeared into a small back room behind his bar.  “Where’s my wife?  Antimony?  Antimony, where’s my armor?”  They could hear sounds of things being tossed about, bumping into walls.  “Antimony?” he roared again.

     “All right!  All right!” returned a woman’s yell.  “What’s this all about?  ‘Ere you!  What’re you up to?”  Nate’s voice could be heard above the bumping sounds in the next room.  “Where are my armor, and my sword?  We must call the people to arms!”  The woman’s voice was clearly aggravated as they heard scuffling sounds in the back room.  “What?  You going off to war?  And leaving me to care for the inn while you’re gone gallavantin’ all over the countryside?  No!  No!  No!  As the mayor, your place is ‘ere with the town!”  More scuffling sounds ensued until they heard a plaintive “‘Ow!”.  The curtains parted to reveal a small, frail-looking woman leading her large husband by the ear.  “You’re not mucking about in your armor again, to get stuck in that old thing again.  And as for your sword, you sold it to Magle for a good rake, remember?  Now you get back to work cleaning the inn, and let me know when you’re finished so’s I can start with the linens.”  Nate’s face was now red with embarassment, his ear red from the pulling it had received.  “Well,” he said sheepishly.  “Perhaps I can tell you how to find old Kelan…”  Talia smiled in return.

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It contains a lot of dialogue that can help move my story along. I however, see 3 paragraphs containing condensed material that seems to blend into each other. The plot seems pretty good, but I can’t tell, because the story is so condensed. What can I do to improve what I wrote? Well, let’s start by untangling the narration from the dialogue. (By the way, I handed this to my mentor, a former editor of a large newspaper. I had not seen so much “blue pencil”, in a very long while.)

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The town was quiet as Talia and Anise walked to the inn.

Nate greeted them as a father would have welcomed part of his brood.  “Talia!”  His deep bass voice boomed out across the room. A tall, large hulk of a man with thick eyebrows, thick moustache and even thicker mop of hair laid a towel down on the bar he’d been cleaning and approached the women in two steps. The tall man gave her companion a warm hug. He turned to the princess. Despite her elaborate disguise, he deduced what she was in less than a minute.  “And who is this?  She looks of royalty, but I’m wondering where her escort is.  Are you both in trouble, lass?” 

Talia smiled and nodded.  “Nate, this be the princess, Anise.” 

He grasped her hand and shook it violently, then pulled her close to him, a hug strong enough that Anise felt as though she’d been waylaid by a bear.  “Welcome to Forth, princess.  My name is Nate, I am the town’s innkeeper and leader.  May your stay be a pleasant one.”  

Talia smiled, saying “We need to find Kalen, Nate.”

Nate’s eyebrows raised.  “What happened? Why are you looking for Kalen?  Is there something we need to know about Laifetre’?” 

 Talia nodded.  “Yes,” she replied quickly.  “It’s finally happened, Nate.  Matrime has declared war on Laifetre’ and will attack us soon.  The problem we got is that much of the army is gone.  We’ve only a handful of the royal guard to protect the king.  They demanded the princess be wedded to that dog of a prince, Gerenoux in exchange for peace.”  

 Nate’s eyebrows seemed to furrow into a single line as he pondered the implications of a war with Matrime.  “I thought that Matrime had no army,” he said slowly. 

 Talia nodded again.  “You’re right, they didn’t until a year or so ago,” she said, choosing her words carefully.  “It’s said that King Hautered closed a deal with the King of the Trolls, and that he’s got a huge troll army behind him and his men.” 

 Nate’s face suddenly turned red with rage at the thought of trolls overrunning the countryside.  “Then we’ve all got to fight for King Rosenet!” he roared, slamming his fist down violently on a nearby table.  The entire inn seemed to shake with his wrath as he disappeared into a small back room behind his bar.  “Where’s my wife?  Antimony?  Antimony, where’s my armor?”  They could hear sounds of things being tossed about, bumping into walls.  “Antimony?” he roared again.

     “All right!  All right!” returned a woman’s yell.  “What’s this all about?  ‘Ere you!  What’re you up to?” 

 Nate’s voice could be heard above the bumping sounds in the next room.  “Where are my armor, and my sword?  We must call the people to arms!” 

 The woman’s voice was clearly aggravated as they heard scuffling sounds in the back room.  “What?  You going off to war?  And leaving me to care for the inn while you’re gone gallavantin’ all over the countryside?  No!  No!  No!  As the mayor, your place is ‘ere with the town!” 

 More scuffling sounds ensued until they heard a plaintive “‘Ow!” 

 The curtains parted to reveal a small, frail-looking woman leading her large husband by the ear.  “You’re not mucking about in your armor again, to get stuck in that old thing again.  And as for your sword, you sold it to Magle for a good rake, remember?  Now you get back to work cleaning the inn, and let me know when you’re finished so’s I can start with the linens.” 

 Nate’s face was now red with embarrassment, his ear red from the pulling it had received.  “Well,” he said sheepishly.  “Perhaps I can tell you how to find old Kelan…”  Talia smiled in return.

 

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Well, it looks a little better, but still seems to stumble all over itself. Looking at what I have separated, it feels flat, like it was run over by a truck.

One of the most effective techniques about working with dialogue is to separate it from our narrative. That means getting rid of “he said”, “she said”, “she cried”. What we can do instead, is to further allow our characters to breathe by giving them and their emotions total rein over our story, by separating the narrative and action from the dialogue.

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The town was quiet as Talia and Anise walked to the inn. 

Nate greeted both of them as a father would have welcomed back part of his brood. 

“Talia!” 

A deep bass voice boomed out across the room as he laid a towel down on the bar he’d been cleaning and approached her in two steps, covering a distance of what seemed like yards to Anise.  Giving her companion a warm hug, he turned to the princess, a tall, large hulk of a man with thick eyebrows, thick moustache and even thicker mop of hair. He sized her up in less than a minute. 

 “And who is this?  She looks of royalty, but I’m wondering where her escort is.  Are you both in trouble, lass?” 

 Talia smiled and nodded. 

 “Nate, this be the princess, Anise.” 

 He grasped her hand and shook it violently, then pulled her close to him, a hug strong enough that Anise felt as though she’d been waylaid by a bear. 

 “Welcome to Forth, princess.  My name is Nate, I am the town’s innkeeper and leader.  May your stay be a pleasant one.”  

 Talia smiled.

 “We need to find Kalen, Nate.”

  Nate’s eyebrows raised. 

 “What happened? Why are you looking for Kalen?  Is there something we need to know about Laifetre’?” 

 Talia nodded. 

 “Yes. It’s finally happened, Nate.  Matrime has declared war on Laifetre’ and will attack us soon.  The problem we got is that much of the army is gone.  We’ve only a handful of the royal guard to protect the king.  They demanded the princess be wedded to that dog of a prince, Gerenoux in exchange for peace.” 

 Nate’s eyebrows seemed to furrow into a single line as he pondered the implications of a war with Matrime. His voice became slow and deliberate.

 “I thought that Matrime had no army.”

 Talia nodded again, choosing her words carefully.

 “You’re right, they didn’t until a year or so ago. It’s said that King Hautered closed a deal with the King of the Trolls, and that he’s got a huge troll army behind him and his men.” 

 Nate’s face suddenly turned red with rage at the thought of trolls overrunning the countryside. 

 “Then we’ve all got to fight for King Rosenet!”

 He slammed his fist down violently on a nearby table, as his voice crescendoed into a roar.  The entire inn seemed to shake with his wrath as he disappeared into a small back room behind his bar. 

 “Where’s my wife?  Antimony?  Antimony, where’s my armor?” 

 They could hear sounds of things being tossed about, bumping into walls.

 “Antimony?”

 His voice could be heard very clearly through the wall.

 “All right!  All right!”

 A woman’s yell resounded from the upper floor of the tavern.

 “What’s this all about?  ‘Ere you!  What’re you up to?” 

 Nate’s voice could be heard above the bumping sounds in the next room. 

 “Where are my armor, and my sword?  We must call the people to arms!” 

 The woman’s voice was clearly aggravated as they heard scuffling sounds in the back room. 

 “What?  You going off to war?  And leaving me to care for the inn while you’re gone gallavantin’ all over the countryside?  No!  No!  No!  As the mayor, your place is ‘ere with the town!” 

 More scuffling sounds ensued until they heard a plaintive, “‘Ow!”

 The curtains parted to reveal a small, frail-looking woman leading her large husband by the ear. 

 “You’re not mucking about in your armor again, to get stuck in that old thing again.  And as for your sword, you sold it to Magle for a good rake, remember?  Now you get back to work cleaning the inn, and let me know when you’re finished so’s I can start with the linens.” 

 Nate’s face was red with embarrassment, his ear as red as his cheeks from the pulling it had received.  His voice became more sheepish, less enthusiastic. 

 “Well…perhaps I can tell you how to find old Kelan…” 

 Talia smiled in return.

I can compare what we did to painting our ideas – in print.

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Our canvas was something like this – cluttered and almost one-dimensional.

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In our next step, we were able to separate colors, but it still seemed to lack any kind of substance or shape.

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By allowing our characters to “own the page”, we could display each character as distinctly as our painting above; each character mixed with their own dialogue, separated by either description or action, a culmination of separate colors, shapes, sizes and dimensions. We allowed our dialogue to create action within our story by separating the different voices on each page. I still see areas where the plot can be reworked or even restructured. One very good reason I am able to see changes that can be made to my story,  is because I separated the dialogue between my characters.

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Our result is a clear-cut story taking place in an inn. With a little more work, our characters can now come alive because we separated dialogue from description or action.

Note: This article was painstakingly edited and proofread by booksellers and a former journalist/editor.

Next in our Creative Series


Creative Series IV: Planning, Outlining and Editing…A Second Set of Eyes.

 

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