One of the workshops I attended while at RWA 2014 was one on writing dialogue, taught by fabulous Julia Quinn. Julia writes mainly historical romantic fiction and does very well at it, thank you very much. She’s appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list over 18 times and has a very faithful fan base. Her class on how to write effective dialogue was a goodie.
I realized ten minutes into the class that I had been doing a lot of things incorrectly with regards to my dialogue tags and beats. She showed, through simple placing of breaks, beats, and tags, how to establish a dialogue chain and keep it fresh and moving on the page without the reader having to go back a few lines or pages to see who, in fact, was speaking. By the use of well placed TAGLINES, those little informative lines or words that indicate who is speaking, other than the standard “he said, she said” ones, you can keep the dialogue moving across the page at a pace that is easy for the reader to follow and comprehend. Remember, reading is not a visual media, like watching television or a movie is, where you can visualize ( read, see) who is doing the speaking. Your reader must have total comprehension each time a line or chunk of dialogue is spoken in order to know to whom to attribute the words to.
ACTION TAGS are simply that. Little snippets of description that let you show the reader the tone of the character’s voice, the movement he/she is making and even how another character perceives him/her. Action tags always allow you to show rather than tell what your character is thinking and doing.
EMOTIONAL TAGS are again easily defined. They show what your character is feeling, or how your character is reacting to something in the scene. Showing character emotion is an excellent way of letting the reader know what is in the character’s head, why he is reacting the way he is, and what he is thinking. When interspersed with action tags and attributes, this allows the reader to fully comprehend the scene and understand the subtext in the dialogue you are writing.
Another great part of Julia’s workshop was the nuts and guts part of writing dialogue, such as where to place the punctuation, the correct way to do it, and the tricks you can use to convey a visual scene in a non-visual media.
All in all, the class could have gone on for hours, there was so much useful and professional information in it. Maybe at the next RWA conference she can do a master class and give us more than an hour of her wisdom. I actually wrote that request on the course survey.
Let’s see if the powers-that-be listen to me!