I have never felt that dialogue was my most shining talent in the writing area. I feel like my best point is description, but lets face it, description can't carry the plot or convey all the emotion. Dialogue is important to a story, especially when the author is writing from a limited, third person omniscient point of view.My story is told in third person, and the narrator's voice is omniscient about Cuinn specifically. In other words, I am specifically and usually only able to get into Cuinn's head. What others are thinking are generally not something I "know" about. I can know what Cuinn knows, but through Cuinn's investigations, I have to figure out what Friar Jackie or what Maeryn knows.
Knowing that dialogue isn't my favorite thing to use, or a strength of mine when writing, I have learned to hone my listening skills. At the point in my book that I am writing now, the boys, Brennan and Cuinn and their female friend, Nym, are all between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. And for the love of my novel, I have become a voyeur. I eavesdrop. I watch. I watch behaviors of the boys and the way they differ from the girls. I make mental notes, and sometimes, I even write it down in my little orange notebook that I bought for this very activity. I listen to the kinds of things they talk about, and what they might find funny. And I apply it to my characters.
Now, my story is based in a fictional history, in a totally different land. I might have to change some of the "lingo" that I collect to suit what my story needs. A boy who is very passionate about a sport that didn't exist in the possible history of my story can still give me ideas about what a boy in the time of budding Christianity of very early Dark Ages in Ireland might enjoy. Set in the time period, the boy could be competitive. He could like to see how far he could throw rocks, or how much faster he could run than his friends, and it would be an undercurrent in any conversation he is involved in. A girl who has nothing nice to say about any other girl easily turns into the town gossip.
Body languages for irritation, anger, excitement, interest, and so on, would very likely be the same. A girl nearly 2000 years ago, who was severely upset with her mother would very likely still fold her arms, refuse to make eye contact, and might even stomp a foot. Boys who were angry would flex their jaw muscles- we all know how our fathers did that when they were mad at us as kids.- and might be very physical and drag a kid along by their ear, or they might get very quiet, and seethe internally. A boy who likes a girl might stutter over his words, and wipe his sweaty palms on his pants, and, as a dear friend pointed out to me, he might become aggressive and try to show how strong he is and how much better than the other boys. A girl who likes a boy will still smile a lot, bat her eyes, chew her bottom lip, and flip her hair. Body language and verbal language actually change very little over time. At least the basics don't.
Personally, I think they go hand in hand. At least for me. Being not so much a fan of the dialogue, I use as little as possible, and get a lot of my point across with body language, with key phrases and banter to carry the story further.
Of course, I think this is subjective. Every writer has their own style, and it won't do you justice to try and copy someone. I've read wonderful, engaging books with very little description, but a lot of internal dialogue. (Hunger Games, Til We Have Faces) I have also read books that were specifically guided by the description, and the dialogue was deliberate and specific (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and I have read books that were entirely dialogue, of sorts. (The Screwtape Letters.)
I feel like a dialogue should sound natural, and real. I have unfortunately read books where the conversation was guided too hard and sounded forced. This disengages your readers, and brings them out of the book so that they feel like themselves again. So, at the risk of sounding creepy, I encourage you writers to go out and listen to the way people talk. Listen to the kinds of things they find funny, the kinds of things they're upset about. Watch their body language. Even from outside of hearing distance, see what you can understand about a conversation just by watching the way they stand, the look on their face, and what they do with their hands.
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