Thursday, February 1, 2018

February 2018 - Taking Dictation for Dialogue

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been
 submitted to me
 by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "Like most writers, I'm shy, and an introvert. Is there a way to learn to write good dialogue that doesn't involve having conversations with people?"

 Yes, there's a very good way to learn to write good dialogue — it's by listening. 

That's right, not talking but listening for the diction, syntax, and vocabulary of people who are talking and then write down what you overhear.

Okay, so you cannot go around with a stenographer's pad in hand, and unless you're trained in one of the shorthand methods of taking dictation, you're at a disadvantage of getting all the words down. However, you can improve your ability to listen and take notes by using videos and watching movies. 

Screenwriters rely heavily on dialogue to flesh out and make characters realistic. They have honed dialogue to an art. Which means, you can train your ears and inner ear to hear the cadence and rhythms for various types of characters by watching movies that have a specific character you need for your story. For instance, whenever I need a high IQ, arrogant ego, I watch reruns of M*A*S*H and concentrate on Charles Emerson Winchester III's dialogue. 

When I write my story, I do not use his exact words. After all, my character is not Charles Emerson Winchester III.

But there's a trick to listening to videos, movies, etc. That trick is not to watch but to turn off the TV or monitor and listen. Pause the recording and replay the words of the character you most want to emulate in your story. And do write down the passages so you can go back and compare lines, determine the pattern of the words, the arrangement and length of the sentences or fragments. Concentrate on the syntax, the vocabulary, the length of sentences.

Do listen for what transpires in the voice of the speaking character when they are under stress, are frustrated, are angry. How does the syntax, vocabulary, diction, and emphasis change? How does a female's voice differ from a man's? What is the educational level (or lack thereof) revealed in the dialogue?

So, instead of talking to people, listen instead. And while you're listening and evaluating, listen for unique turns of phrases, one-liners, odd and mild-tempered expletives, specific jargon, etc. and record those in a file for future stories (my file is called WHO SAYS).

So, give the TV-video idea a go and let me know what you discover.

***March's topic will be — Pantser Rhetoric?

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