It’s Writing Tip Wednesday and today we’re talking about talking.
What’s that mean?
Dialogue, baby. It’s that magic place where the characters get to speak for themselves.
So, the number one tip is super obvious, but yet… so many of us don’t do it.
SAY YOUR DIALOGUE
That’s easy enough, right? But actually listen to how the words sound. Is it awkward? Too perfect? Is someone saying an 895-word sentence?
Think about the breath units.
Wait. Breath units? What’s that?
A breath unit is how many syllables are read in one breath. You breathe at periods and commas and punctuation marks, right?
So, if your dialogue sentences have more than 20 syllables? It’s going to be cruddy. If it’s all five or less? It’s going to sound cruddy too.
Poets use this writing tool and think about this all the time. Fiction writers should too because the cadence of your words and your writing matters AND because you should have as many tools in your tool box as possible.
Once you know the tools, you can break the rules for dramatic effect. Stephen King often writes a 100-word sentence full of long breath units and follows it with a one-breath-unit sentence-slash- paragraph for a dramatic punch.
And I sort of did that up there.
See? This sentence is super long (40 syllables):
Stephen King often writes a 100-word sentence full of long breath units and follows it with a one-breath-unit sentence-slash- paragraph for a dramatic punch.
And followed it with this (2 syllables):
That’s not dialogue, but it helps make it understandable, right?
And to be fair, not all people and all cultures have that typical upper middle class white person in the United States breath unit. Think of Eminem or Busta Rhymes or Tech N9ne for a second and all the words each of those men can say in one breath. Chopper-style rap has this awesome, intense emphasis on speed and pronunciation, which throws the rules of breath units out the window. Here’s a link to some fast rap examples courtesy of Red Bull.
Warning: There is profanity.
And those differences are important. It’s good to remember where the ‘rules’ come from and who they come from and also to give yourself the liberty to play with them or against them.
So, do that. Say your dialogue aloud. Play around with the breath. Think about the things your character is feeling underneath the words she’s saying.
If a cop or a werewolf is chasing your Scooby gang, they aren’t going to be eloquent and have long beat units. If they’re on drugs, giving a speech, or borderline hysterical? Those beats are going to show that.
I’m heading to Freeport, Maine on Sept. 28 and then Houston and Virginia Beach pretty soon to promote my picture book biography of Moe Berg. It’s called The Spy Who Played Baseball.
I’ll be hanging with a lot of other cool authors in Freeport.
The last TIME STOPPERS BOOK is out and I love it. You should buy it because it’s empowering and about friendship and bias and magic. Plus, dragons and elves.
How to Get Signed Copies:
If you would like to purchase signed copies of my books, you can do so through the awesome Sherman’s Book Store in Bar Harbor, Maine or the amazing Briar Patch. The books are also available online at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
For signed copies – email firstname.lastname@example.org for Sherman’s or email email@example.com let them know the titles in which you are interested. There’s sometimes a waiting list, but they are the best option. Plus, you’re supporting an adorable local bookstore run by some really wonderful humans. But here’s the Amazon link, too!
You can buy prints of my art here. Thank you so much for supporting my books and me and each other. I hope you have an amazing day.