If you've been with me for a bit, you've already met my friend, author and teacher, Matt Posner. Matt's latest venture is a non-fiction manual, written almost textbook style, entitled How to Write Dialogue. It's (obviously) aimed at writers of all levels who wish to sharpen their dialogue-writing skills, but I'll let Matt tell you a bit more about himself and his book.
Thanks for hosting a sample from How to Write Dialogue, my technical manual for writers at all experience levels. This book offers prescriptions for good dialogue writing with plentiful and, I hope, entertaining examples, both those written by me, and those written by my bullpen of contributors including J.A. Beard, Cynthia Echterling, Marita A. Hansen, Junying Kirk, Stuart Land, Mysti Parker, Roquel Rodgers, Jess C. Scott, Chrystalla Thoma, Ey Wade, and Georgina Young-Ellis.
The book also has essays on dialogue by Tim Ellis and Jess C. Scott and numerous illustrations by fine artist Eric Henty.
Here's a selection from a part of the book called "Dialogue Provides Information."
See what you think of this next example.
Example 36 — Elinor and Marianne
"Mother is coming to visit me," said Elinor. "For a week."
"Really?" asked Marianne. "She hasn't come to stay with me in… what is it? Eight years?"
"Your house is crowded, with your two nephews in the guest room, that you took in when your husband's brother died. And the stray dog you adopted on one of your monthly trips to Perth Amboy."
"Do you really think that's why?" Marianne asked, setting down her coffee cup. "Don't you think there might be another reason?"
Elinor sighed. "Not again, Marianne. Puh-leeze, no more 'Mom loved you best.'"
"She said so."
"When we three all went to Newport News to settle Grandma's estate. Three years ago."
"And you still have her emerald brooch," Marianne complained.
"I do not."
"You do. And Mom said she preferred you."
"She was joking," said Elinor. "It was ironic. You two were cuddled up with a bowl of popcorn watching The Way We Were."
"That never happened!" Elinor was shocked.
"Yes it did!"
"No," Marianne sniffed. "We were watching The Bridges of Madison County."
This passage, my imitation of chick lit, seems to be about the two sisters quarreling over their mother's love, and really it is, with lots of conflict and characterization, but there's necessary exposition in the passage also. We learn about who lives in Marianne's house; that Marianne is married; that she travels to Perth Amboy; that Grandma is three years dead; that there is an emerald brooch in dispute. We also are alerted to Dad's apparent absence (he wasn't in Newport News).
Dialogue passages like this are a staple of fiction, and an alert reader recognizes one for what it is, the satisfaction of a technical requirement rather than an attempt at verisimilitude. However, if you add enough positives to dialogue like this, your reader will probably not mind.
The technical action in this case is to have the characters remind each other of what they have done in the past. It can be accomplished in a number of ways.
1) Have the characters narrate their past actions during a conversation, resulting in a short in-character summary rather than a fully developed scene.
2) Have characters who are getting to know each other relate stories of their pasts.
3) Have one character tell a second character information about a third character, who may or may not be present to react.
4) Have characters argue over past action and narrate prior events as components of the argument. (This is what I did in the previous example.)
Note that people's versions of events are not entirely trustworthy, and people may well dispute each other's accounts of the past.
Matt Posner is a New York City teacher and a writer of fiction and nonfiction. The author of the acclaimed ongoing young adult fantasy series School of the Ages and co-author of the top-selling advice book Teen Guide to Sex and Relationships, Matt lives in New York City with his wife Julie. Matt is also a member of Bernard Schaffer's Kindle All-Stars and maintains a growing series of interviews with writers at his website http://schooloftheages.webs.com. Matt has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
How to Write Dialogue is Matt's sixth full-length book.