Dialogue and Setting: Two Great Resources

After letting it sit for a few months, I read the manuscript of my first novel. While it certainly moved fast, I spotted a few problems.

The first is that the story is told almost completely in dialogue. In many scenes, the action could be taking place just about anywhere. While I know the characters are sitting on the edge of a cliff or in a seedy bar in Trofmose, and what those places sound, smell, and look like, it’s not always clear to the reader.

For help, I turned to another of the Write Great Fiction guides: Setting and Description. It was well worth the investment of time and money.

Setting and Description taught me how to make the setting act as another character in the story, affecting mood, emotion, and at times, behavior. It also gave tips for providing the right details, in the proper amount. The idea is to make readers feel they are there, without boring them with every detail of a room’s knickknacks or every button on the hero’s shirt (unless, of course, one of these buttons becomes a clue to finding out who attacked the hero.)

The author provides many examples from a wide range of fiction, and shows the difference between the amount of description a reader of literary fiction expects compared to someone reading popular fiction. The exercises helped reinforce the concepts.

Then I moved on to Dialogue. My biggest concern has been how do I get my characters to sound like different people, believable and authentic? Dialogue provided lots of answers. This book gave some of the best tips for putting words in the characters’ mouths that readers will believe that they would actually say. It also validated something I’ve felt for awhile, that filling out lengthy character profiles is dull and sometimes profitless work. Dialogue provided a means to focus all that effort for maximum effect.

The book also taught other uses for dialogue, than having characters say things to each other. Chapters cover using dialogue to move the story along, showing characters’ motivations, revealing setting, pacing, intensifying conflict, and establishing mood. The author provided plenty of practical tips and ways to correct dialogue that simply does not work. This book’s exercises were the most rigorous of all the ones in this series I’ve read.

Like the other Write Great Fiction books, these two are written primarily for beginners. I find them helpful, because in my experience, reviewing the basics is often a good way to find mistakes and improve my skills.

What about you? What are some of your favorite resource for crafting dialogue or describing setting?

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