3. Internal thoughts
So today, I'm starting with dialog. Having your characters SAY important information is a great way to get the story out.
Warning: Don't engage your characters in a conversation where both parties already know all the information but the reader does not. That's wicked lame.
It's got to be an authentic conversation between people. It can reveal who the characters are by the way they talk, how you choose to have them react, and what words you put in their mouths.
And dialog can also get out crucial background information or other facts you need a character (and thus, the reader) to learn. For example, take this snippet of dialog from my now-curing WiP, Elemental Hunger. It's mostly dialog where Gabby (the narrator) is learning some stuff she didn't know.
The silence stretched on as I struggled to make sense of what he’d said. “Mentor? As in…you were training to be a sentry? Why? There’s an Elemental school in Tarpulin.”
“Not anymore,” Adam said, his voice flat. “Alex buried the school under a mountain a year ago. That’s why I left. All the schools in the Northern Territories have been destroyed. I’m only alive because she doesn’t know I’m Elemental. I’d been on the sentry track for twelve years.”
“All the schools?”
“Yup. I’ve been hopping from school to school, managing to escape before the flood or the earthquake. Crylon was the last—and now it’s burned.”
“I didn’t do it,” I said automatically.
“I know. Felix did. Do you think he could’ve gotten here so fast? All the way from Tarpulin?”
I knew Tarpulin was far away, but I didn't know how far. “But he’s not Elemental.”
“No, but he can strike a match.”
“Why? Why would Alex send her sentries to destroy the Elemental schools?”
He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “You don’t know much about Alex, do you?”
Anger burned through my veins. “I didn’t get to attend Firemaker lessons. In case you haven’t figured it out, no one knew I was Elemental either. I know who Alex is. I know everyone is afraid of him—including me. He’s ruthless and cruel.”
“And a girl,” Adam said, eyeing me again.
“Alex is a woman. And she possesses all four Elements.”
I stared at him as he peeled the blackened skin off of the chicken. “No way.”
“Way, man. Uh, I mean....”
“How is that possible?”
This is mostly dialog. And I really need Gabby to know that Alex is a woman. Smart readers will catch Adam's "slip" in the second paragraph. I want the reader to see that, wonder about it, and then get the information right away. I also want/need the information about all the schools being demolished in there. And that little bit about how far Tarpulin is. And Felix....
So you see, dialog can really get a lot of crucial information out in the open in a relatively short amount of time.
It's also one of the hardest things to write, I think. It's important to make sure it sounds natural. Don't let your characters say things they wouldn't say. Don't let them say contrived or overdone things just because you want them to/you need them to/or you think it's the way to go.
Just let them be...themselves. Let them talk, carefully inserting the words you need them to say to get across the information you need. But don't rob them of who they are or the voice they use. It's a delicate balance, one you probably need a crit group, therapy and a large platter of bacon to find. Wait. That might just be me. Never mind.
But seriously, you want your dialog to be authentic. As if you really were eavesdropping on these people, learning the vital information you need to keep the reader invested in their story. And that can be done by good use of dialog. So get them talking!
How will you know when/if your dialog is authentic/awesome?
My tip: Read your dialog out loud. Does it flow like a conversation? Does it sound stilted and awkward? Natural? Too old for the character? Too young? Is it "trying too hard"? You'll know if you read it out loud.
And I like to hear you talk. Does this dialog (in my snippet) work for you? What age would you say these characters are? How can you tell? What do you learn about them? Who's older? Wiser? More in control? Do you consciously think of these things when you're writing dialog? (I'm not saying I do, cuz I don't. But I definitely think about them during the editing stage.)
Finally, do you like writing dialog? I totally love it. It's one of my favorite things to write. And so, so powerful if done right.
So...talk to me! What say you about dialog?