01 June 2018

Writing tip & task 4/7: Bring your dialogue to life

Christopher Wakling
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

Day 4: The fourth of our 7 writing tips and tasks comes from Christopher Wakling, who became a CBC tutor way back in the Autumn of 2011, on our second-ever novel-writing course. Chris also taught on our first ever online novel-writing course in 2013, and has seen more of his students go on to get publishing deals than anyone else on our team. His published students include Kate Hamer, Tim Glencross, James Hannah, Nicholas Searle, Alice Clark-Platts, S D Sykes, Lisa Williamson, James Hall – and so many more that I have to stop listing now! Chris’s tip and task are about dialogue:

Chris’s Writing Tip:

What’s not being said?  In good dialogue, pretty much everything. There should be a discernible subtext beneath the surface conversation. Check your dialogue for statements of the obvious and kill them. Create that extra layer of meaning.

And here’s the writing task:

Write a micro-conversation between two characters. Do your best to make what’s NOT being said shine through. eg Who has the power in the scene? Does it shift? Can we glimpse what’s REALLY going on? (No need to waste words on ‘he said/asked’ etc)

Our 7-day challenge requires you to have a go at this in tweet form – but take some time to try it out at greater length for yourself. And in fact, take this basic point on board when you’re writing dialogue generally in fiction. Think about how we don’t always say what we actually mean – perhaps from good manners, or from fear, or because we are not proud of what we actually think – or because we are downright lying to hide something … This business of sub-text, and of what we conceal, is a valuable tool in story-telling and characterisation. And, as Chris says, it adds depth to your dialogue. Fiction is most interesting when it’s operating simultaneously on different levels.

Readers like to work hard. Your reader will enjoy being able to glimpse what’s really being said, rather than having it dished straight up to them.

For more great advice read Anna Davis’s tips on how to write dialogue – and what to avoid doing

Our six-week online course – Write to the End of Your Novel – (about getting through your first draft), contains a full module on writing dialogue. Or, check out our longer creative writing courses, both online and in London, which all feature teaching on writing great dialogue.


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