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Just Listen: Writing Dialogue by Ann O’Loughlin

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ann o'loughlin

Ann O'Loughlin

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Just  listen.
Dialogue is one of the most powerful tools  in a writer’s tool box, but to get it right you first have to do a lot of listening.
Tune in to the conversations all around you.
Walk down the street, get on a bus or a train and do a little listening in.
Eavesdropping is not illegal so get out there and do some research.
The characters might fight it out in my head, but it is when they find their voices through dialogue that they shine.
The phrases used, the words, the pauses, the hesitation, the tone of voice , what is said and maybe more  importantly what is left unsaid.
Any interesting conversation is full of interruptions, pauses, snarky comments and maybe silences.
And there is not an er an um in sight. And when was the last time somebody sat down and delivered a long speech on life as part of a chat over the water cooler. Bar the frustrated parent reading the Riot Act to a teenager, I can’t think of any other context.
 I got my favourite line in my debut novel The Ballroom Café on a train from Dublin to Limerick.The train had stopped on the tracks for some time without explanation, when one agitated gentleman said:
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I have never been more crucified in my life.”
A slight exaggeration I would have thought, but that  line  stayed in my head until Ella O’Callaghan was in the bank manager’s office and under pressure to repay a loan.
When she uttered those words and marched out of the office, it set the mood of the meeting perfectly.
Some people jot down in notebooks the gems they hear as they roam about.  I prefer to mull them over and store them away hoping when the character is ready and the time is right, they will pop back in to my head.
Dialogue for me makes this writing business less lonely.  As a writer, I can be on the edge of these very interesting conversations and even turn them on their head, if I feel like it. The author is always in the loop, let in to all the secrets.
The dialogue challenge in my third novel The Ludlow Ladies’ Society  was two fold. The dialogue needed to reflect the intensity of grief felt by American, Connie Carter in Ireland after losing her husband and trying to unravel the mysteries presented after his death and it needed to provide the lighter moments, when the Ludlow ladies get together chatting as they stitch memory quilts.
This is the story of three women struggling with pain and loss, but as they stitch memory quilts to remember those they have loved and lost, the secrets of the past finally begin to surface. It is a story of friendship, resilience and compassion, and how women support each other through the most difficult times.
The meetings of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society and the various characters from steadfast Eve to bustling Hetty to out and out snob Kathryn Rodgers provide the humour and the light relief in a book, which deals with hard issues of murder suicide and domestic violence.
What is my favourite line from The Ludlow Ladies’ Society?
It has to be when the ladies are sifting through all the fabric donated by the residents of Rosdaniel for the town memory quilt.
Talk turns to the local priest and the scarf he donated. The following dialogue for me gets across the changing attitude to the Catholic Church in this country, as well as giving the reader a nice giggle:
“What a load of balderdash. He would be better donating some of the fancy clothes he wears ballroom dancing,” Eithne said.
Kathryn threw the scarf aside. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Sorry, I thought the whole town knew. Fr Dempsey every Saturday night is twinkle toes himself, not in Rosdaniel, but far away in Wexford town.”
“Is he allowed do that?” one of the new women asked.
“Since when did a man of cloth ask if he was allowed do anything?” Eithne said.
Kathryn, worried at the turn in conversation, clapped her hands again.
“We need to get working, ladies. Eithne, would you start cutting out the patches in this lot?” She shoved a big box of clothes across the floor to Eithne.
“Funny, when you are talking about a priest, there is always somebody wanting to cover up the truth,” she sniped as she opened the box and took out a long orange sparkling dress. “Who the hell would wear this sort of thing?” she asked.
“A priest going dancing on a Saturday night,” Rebecca Fleming said in a matter-of-fact voice, a ripple of laughter pulsing across the room.
I love too the row over tea when Kathryn Rodgers can’t get her Earl Grey in the local cafe:
‘What is this nonsense? Tea is tea,” Eve laughed.
“As much as I disagree with that statement, because tea is never just tea, I would like ……”
Well, it goes on of course but you will have to read the book to find out!
(c) Ann O’Loughlin
About The Ludlow Ladies’ Society:
American Connie Carter has lost everybody and everything dear to her. She moves to Ludlow Hall, Wicklow, Ireland to nurse her grieving heart and find answers. There, she meets Eve and Hetty and is introduced to The Ludlow Ladies Society. Can her hurt be healed? Can she ever understand or forgive? As the women stitch patchwork memory quilts to remember those they have lost, the secrets of the past emerge.With the Ludlow Ladies Society behind her, Connie has to face those secrets and the memories sweet and sour, but can she let go of the past?A story of friendship, resilience and compassion, and of how women hold each other up through the most difficult times, this is a tale which will have you crying one minute and laughing the next.
Order your copy online here.

About the author

A leading journalist in Ireland , Ann O’Loughlin has covered all major news events of the last three decades. Ann spent most of her career with Independent Newspapers where she was Security Correspondent at the height of The Troubles, and a senior journalist on the Irish Independent and Evening Herald. She is currently a senior journalist with the Irish Examiner newspaper. Ann has also lived in India. Originally from the west of Ireland she now lives on the east coast with her husband and two children.

Find Ann on FACEBOOK @annoloughlinbooks TWITTER @annolwriter

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