When imagining a conversation between your characters, keep in mind these four speech characteristics used by actors to vary expression and add interest.
Pace, Pause, Pitch & Projection -
First, let's consider Pace -
When you are listening to your characters carry on a conversation in your imagination and you are madly trying to capture every brilliant word, think about how varying the pace of your character's words can bring interest to the story and help clarify their intent. Dialogue should not prattle on at an even pace. People don't talk that way. And those bursts of quick dialogue followed by slow, deliberate delivery adds vivid imagery to the reader and makes your characters come alive.
Consider... Pause -
Using the technique of pausing after a line of dialogue may be fairly routine and obvious, but using pause as an actor might - in the middle of a sentence - will add a whole different dynamic.
Consider Pitch -
As a writer, it may be a challenge to convey a sense of vocal pitch in dialogue, but by hearing this variety in your characters, you will no doubt discover new and interesting things to say. The fact that some characters speak with little or no pitch variance and others may be incredibly tuneful is interesting in itself. Use of vocal pitch says a lot about a person's expression and emotional state. As you write your dialogue, be aware of your character's pitch - both in general and in a particular sentence - to create variety and convey natural speech patterns. Again, finding ways of expressing varied pitch will be as individual as the writer herself.
Consider Projection -
The final "P" to keep in mind is Projection. Dialogue that is all at the same volume and delivery level gets pretty monotonous for the audience and/or reader. Using a variety of soft and loud delivery can be used to convey emotion as well as basic physical proximity. Projection is possibly the most popular and obvious choice to describe dialogue to readers.
The examples above show two very different expressions of the same dialogue, defined by projection.
Pace, Pause, Pitch and Projection - 4 tools an actor uses to find variety and natural expression in dialogue. If you, as the writer will keep these tools in mind when creating dialogue, I believe you will open the door to new creativity and dynamic expression.
Best of luck with your writing projects!
Jan Peterson Ewen
Nothing's more disappointing than a wonderful character who doesn't have much to say. Writing dialogue that makes your characters come alive is critical to the success of any great story. Using dialogue to convey deeper emotions is where studying the actor can help your process.
THEATER SETS THE STAGE
My experience has been primarily writing dialogue. That's the part that comes natural and easy for me. I'm fairly certain it's because my background is in theater and I have spent years teaching actors to use dialogue to convey emotion and intent. My first three published books were collections of scenes for student actors with a fourth collection of scenes due out in August, 2015, and consist of all dialogue. But dialogue is just a tool to convey meaning. It isn't the words that are important, but the nuance and intent behind the words.
MEANING IS IN EVERYTHING BUT THE WORDS
The famous acting teacher, Stella Adler, once said, "Acting is in everything but the words." I love this quote because it sums up the difficult task of both the writer and the actor to convey feeling through dialogue which may or may not be a direct reflection of the character's intent. And that nuance is what makes the story interesting to the reader or, in the case of theater - to the audience.
CREATE AN "INNER MONOLOGUE"
For the actor, there is always an "inner monologue" going on and despite what he or she might actually be saying, that inner monologue is what's driving his intent. He/she may be feeling one thing and saying something to the contrary. This is what makes characters complex and interesting.
So, consider this - what your character is saying is not necessarily a direct reflection of what he's feeling inside - and that's good! That makes a character intriguing to the reader. The more nuance you can give your dialogue, the better. Of course there is a time and a place for direct dialogue that has little or no nuance, but be aware of the difference and write it deliberately.
LET YOUR CHARACTERS TAKE THE STAGE
My process for writing dialogue involves seeing my characters "onstage". Once I've made some basic decisions about them - age, physical appearance, temperament, etc. - they seem to take on a life of their own and I try my best to get out of the way and let them direct the conversation.
If you have been writing for any length of time, I imagine you've had this same experience. Your characters start talking to one another and you just do your best to keep up and write it all down. It's a surreal experience and very surprising at times. I write down what my characters are saying, even if it seems contrary to the direction I thought my story was going. I'm interested in what they have to say and I can always edit and redirect later. But what I find is that they are most often on to something interesting.
So keep in mind these tips when approaching and writing dialogue -
Good luck with your amazing characters!
If you are a writer, you have no doubt thought long and hard about how to get your wonderful book published. Traditional publishing methods are the obvious choice. You research Literary Agents and Publishing Houses on The Writer's Market. You send out a battery of queries, describing your book as succinctly as humanly possible to tantalize and get attention. You wait for months, and most often, end up with a stack of rejection letters or hear nothing back at all. Not always - but you know you must be prepared for the blow.
The fact is, there are thousands of writers in the world hoping to find a publisher, and publishers are overwhelmed.
Lay your foundation
I am speaking to you from my own experience now.
Probably, like you, I wanted to write the Great International Novel,
but I figured out pretty fast that getting my foot in the door and
making a name for myself as a writer was going to be a
challenge. I decided to create a foundation for myself
and my future works by doing what I do best.
Here's what I did...
Set your writing goal
I spent the first 30 years of my career life as a performer and theatrical director. I have directed over 60 plays and musicals and have taught countless acting classes to students of all ages.
This is where I started. I took what I had learned over the years in theater and acting and began to write short, humorous scenes for my church. I wrote my first scene and tried it out with actors. It worked great and was a wonderful resource. We began doing illustrative scenes every week as a part of worship. I compiled the scenes I had written and submitted them to a Christian Publisher - Lillenas Publishing in Kansas City.
They accepted the first collection in record time. I wrote another series of scenes titled, This is Your Life - and they published those, too.
what color is your parachute?
Do you remember this popular book from 1970 by Richard N. Bolles? It was the quintessential book for job-seekers and has been revised many times over the years to keep its impact relevant. I thought about the basic premise of this book when it came to my writing:
That's how I decided to build a foundation for my writing. I chose to start with what I knew well - even though it had nothing to do with the Great International Novel.
the foundation is laid...
Several years after I wrote the books for Lillenas, I wrote a collection of scenes for my acting students at the theater I run. The scenes were a wonderful resource for developing the stage skills my students needed to learn. They loved performing them, so I wrote more, and more, and...
I submitted my collection of scenes titled, Fractured Fairy Tales for Student Actors to Meriwether Publishing and it was published in 2013. A new collection of my scenes is also being published. The new book is currently titled, Sci-Fi Scenes and Monster Dreams, and will be featured in the Pioneer Drama Services August Catalogue, 2015 (Meriwether/Pioneer Drama Services). Each book was a stepping stone for the next book.
It may have taken several years to accomplish this foundation in traditional publishing, but I now feel I can use it as a springboard for a variety of writing - including the long awaited novel I mentioned earlier, which I have just released titled, "Starring on Bay Street".
I started with what I knew, and did the best I could at sharing my expertise. The markets for my scene books are not HUGE. They are resource books that serve a valuable function for teachers and students alike. But because the market wasn't huge, I had a chance of getting my foot in the publisher's door and of proving that I could write well.
starting small can lead to great rewards
So, think about it. What color is your parachute? What do you know well that you can share with others today? What can you write about that is perfect for a small market publication? Consider building your writing success on the knowledge you already have and when you have established yourself in traditional publishing, you can branch out into bigger markets.
Your path to a successful writing career may have been right in front of you all along. Best of luck!
Jan Peterson Ewen