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Matt Posner's How to Write Dialogue


Hi, I'm Matt Posner, author of the School of the Ages series since 2010, and since November 2013, author of the best short manual you can find on dialogue writing. (It's called How to Write Dialogue, available at viewbook.at/DialogueBook.) Recently I sat down with Goldberry Tinker, the very British teen who is the heroine of the School of the Ages series and best friend of the protagonist Simon, to tell her about the importance of dialogue in fiction. Goldberry has never been very kind to me, and this time was no exception.
We sat down in the School of the Ages dining hall over tea and buttered toast. She takes her tea without sugar; I had to use Sweet'n'Low, since Splenda wasn't on the market when Goldberry was still a teenager.
I explained, "One of the old lessons of characterization for students, like my high school students (who are probably sleeping or hiding their phones behind their winter hats or inside their open bags, but let's forgive them that for now)… er, cough cough."

"Get on with it," said Goldberry. "If you're quite ready to stop your dithering."

"Well, I sort of was, but," I began. "You know, you're making me nervous."

"Why, because I'm not one of those bland clumsy girl heroines of the late 2000s?" she demanded. She spoke in a whiny American-teen accent. "'Oh, no, I need a vampire boyfriend or I'm just useless, useless.' Pathetic."
I struggled. "Uh, no, that's not why."

"Well, you wrote me, didn't you? You should be able to manage talking to me then. Get a hold of yourself."
She was right. Her ferocity had unbalanced me, but I needed to get over it. I took several deep breaths, and then resumed. "One of the old lessons of characterization for students, like my high school students, is the methods authors use for characterization. They include the character's appearance, what the character says, what the character does, what the author says about the character, and what other people say about the character. Let me single out one of those, specifically, what the character says. That's essential to the overwhelming majority of great works of fiction these days. What characters say defines their identities, makes them interesting, moves the story forward. Here's an example."

I looked at Goldberry. She looked at her nails. They had lime-green polish on them. Her pert nose wrinkled. She didn't like the polish. I didn't either. I opened my notebook and wrote, Goldberry liked her bright pink polish. I looked up. The polish was pink, and she had a trace of smile.

"Thank you, I suppose," she said weakly.

I returned to my point. "Here's an example."

Percy said,  "We have to find the missing artifact!"

"Oh, yes," Edward replied. "Of course, that's at the top of my list, after sunbathing."
Says Katniss,  "I nod in slight agreement, watching Percy's eyes."

"Bloody Hell!" cried Ron fiercely.

I continued. "These examples illustrate several functions of dialogue. They set the speakers apart from other another, identifying their ways of thinking, feeling, communicating, and reacting. They have some entertainment value, especially if you share my interest in mocking authors who are overexposed in the market (and have a lot more money than I do, and of whom I am jealous). They also construct a story in which the first character announces a problem, the second avoids confronting the problem, the third remains wary, and the fourth overreacts. If dialogue is done properly, the reader will want to continue on to read more of it and find out how they address the problem."

"May I respond to them?" asked Goldberry.

"Sure."

Taking my notebook and pen, she wrote in a few additional lines. I reclaimed the notebook when she was done and read the following.

Percy said,  "We have to find the missing artifact!"

"It's in your knickers," said Goldberry.
*
"Oh, yes," Edward replied. "Of course, that's at the top of my list, after sunbathing."

"If you're over a hundred years old, why are you falling in love with a teenage girl, you perv?" Goldberry asked.
*
Says Katniss,  "I nod in slight agreement, watching Percy's eyes."

"Do you narrate yourself every day?" asks Goldberry. "Or only when something stupid is going on?"
*
"Bloody Hell!" cried Ron fiercely.

"You'd be more likeable if you were quiet," Goldberry told him. "Oh, and if you were someone likeable."
*
Matt says:

In summary….   Great dialogue is an essential part of characterization.  Characterization is an essential part of good fiction. How to Write Dialogue will help writers at all experience levels to make their writing great.
viewbook.at/DialogueBook

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Matt Posner is a reader-friendly author and teacher from New York City. Contact him at any of these places:
http://schooloftheages.webs.com
http://www.facebook.com/schooloftheages

http://www.twitter.com/schooloftheages

2 comments:

  1. Very needed information! When I write, the dialogue is either cheesy or stiff! So I am so excited by such a resource! I wish you well on your release:O)

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  2. Thank you very much for sharing these pearls with us :)

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