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Niamh Greene on Dialogue

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Writing Dialogue
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Niamh Greene

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Niamh Greene’s latest book, A Message to Your Heartnot only has a gorgeous cover, but is tipped for success with its heartfelt and funny story set in San Francisco…

Literary agent Frankie Rowley is far too practical to believe in fairytales, or coincidences, or fate.She’s also far too busy to spend time with her family or friends, who all reckon the strongest relationship she has is with her smart phone. (And why not? At least it never judges when she cancels dinner for the millionth time.) So when she loses that beloved phone on a work trip to San Francisco, Frankie is totally distraught.

How will she survive without it, especially when the worst PA in Ireland has been left in charge back home? Meanwhile, Frankie’s being stalked by a crazy Irish American, ignored by the author she’s in the city to meet and played by a scheming boss with more on his mind than work. It seems like her perfectly ordered life is starting to crumble into chaos – especially when she begins to receive mysterious text messages on her replacement cell phone, messages that are most definitely not for her . . .Frankie just doesn’t know what to think. She definitely does not believe in fairytales, or coincidences, or fate. So why do all these things seem to believe in her?

So what do the critics say about Niamh’s writing?

‘Greene’s wicked sense of humour provides much needed relief in these recessionary times . . . Engaging, wistful and funny, but with a real down-to-earth humour that has many laugh-out-loud moments’ Irish Independent on Rules for a Perfect Life

‘You laugh your way from cover to cover’ RTE Guide on Letters to a Love Rat

‘Hilariously written . . . will keep you laughing all the way’ Woman on Letters to a Love Rat

With this type of praise, Writing.ie asked Niamh to reveal her top tips for sparkling dialogue, that ingredient essential to every great novel. Niamh told us…

“There’s something about writing dialogue that makes my heart sing. I can struggle with descriptive prose, but when I write dialogue my fingers often fly over the keyboard as I try to keep up with the conversations happening between my characters. It’s at times like this that my writing comes alive and, it may sound strange, but I can actually picture my characters talking to each other, almost like a mini movie playing in my mind.

For the reader, good dialogue is vital to a satisfying reading experience. So much information can be gleaned from it – it’s not just about the talking. It can give back-story, it can develop characterisation, it can explain motive and it moves the story forward. But clunky dialogue can be a real distraction for the reader, so it needs to flow well and have purpose.

Here are my top tips when it comes to writing dialogue:

1) The first thing I would say is don’t panic. Yes, writing good dialogue can be tricky, but it’s not impossible to do. So don’t tie yourself up in knots about it. Anyway, if it’s not right first time round then you can always fix it later. So, give yourself permission to play with the words on the page, and have some fun.

2) Listen to people. Really listen to how people talk to each other – the rhythm and flow, the interruptions, the various expressions. When you write you will have to forgo a lot of the humming and hahing, the ems and ers, that we all do when we speak as they don’t translate so well to the page, but really listening when others talk is great practice for getting it right. Why not keep a notebook and jot down snippets if this works for you? After all, eavesdropping on how people talk is a perk of the job (at least that’s what I tell myself…)

3) Once you’ve written something you think you’re happy with – read it out loud. That’s the ultimate litmus test. If it sounds awkward to read out loud then it’ll sound ‘off’ to your reader. Dialogue must be natural, not stilted or forced (unless of course that’s the sort of scene you’re trying to create!

4) Try to make each voice individual. Just as in real life no two speakers will be the same – the characters in your novel should have their own unique tics. You don’t have to give everyone a ridiculous accent – just take into consideration the person’s age, background and experience when you write. If you’ve done your job right then the reader should be immediately able to identify who’s speaking. Also, allow your characters to interrupt each other and to have unfinished sentences – that’s part of natural conversation after all.

5) Don’t have too much dialogue at once – the reader can become bored and switch off – especially if you make the mistake of trying to give them too much information or back story at once. Readers pick up on this very quickly so break up the dialogue with lots of action or description to keep the pace flowing well.

6) Trying to find new ways of describing ‘he said,’ can be fun (i.e. ‘he exclaimed, he professed’) but sometimes simple is best as too many varied dialogue tags can be a distraction for the reader. Watch out for your own writing tics too – for some reason my characters tend to ‘sigh’ a lot so I always have to address that in edit!

7) Don’t be afraid of silence. Sometimes a lull in conversation, a pause between two characters, can say everything. Give your characters a chance to breathe.

About the author

(c) Niamh Greene June 2012

Niamh Greene’s fifth novel, A Message to Your Heart, is out now published by Penguin Ireland. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/niamhgreenebooks and follow Niamh onwww.twitter.com/niamh_greene

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