One of the challenges many new writers face is how to write compelling dialogue so characters don’t sound so stiff. Inevitably what happens is a conversation (or confrontation) between a couple of characters in your story looks more like interview or an interrogation.
“You disgust me!” she said.
“Back off, honey, or I’ll burn the toast.
“Go burn the whole meal, for all I care. You’re not a chef anyway.”
“Oh yeah, well, just for that I’m never ordering pizza again.”
“Suits me fine. But don’t expect a cake for dessert.”
There's potential in that scene because of the tension, but sheesh could it be any less dull?
Here’s a way to immediately improve your dialogue without a ton of effort. I use the Feelings – Action – Dialogue approach.
Step 1: Feeling
Before your character says their words, have him feel something. Example:
Step 2: Action
Now have him do something, take some kind of action.
Step 3: Dialogue
Finally, it’s time to put words in the character’s mouth.
Here are some more examples:
Mary felt a chill run up her spine. (feeling)
She tossed the letter into the fire. (action)
“You’ll never know the truth now!”
Terror shivered down Roscoe’s spine. (feeling)
He stood perfectly still. (action)
“If you press that button, the entire planet will be destroyed.”
Of course, you can mix these up too, so that you might start off with dialogue, then show a character’s feeling, and then an action: This would be D-F-A.
Or you may simplify it to A-D or F-D, depending on the situation. The point is, by adding feelings and actions to your dialogue, your prose will soar and your story will instantly be more interesting.
Here are a couple of examples from successful authors doing exactly this.
This is from Ted Dekker's book "Obsessed". I like this example because he also shows how Stephen is affected by the news.
This is from the book "Cyclops" by adventure writer Clive Cussler. Here, he uses Action - Feeling - Dialogue really effectively to build tension at the end of a chapter.
Cool, don’t you think?
So let’s take another look at that opening scene with the couple arguing in the kitchen. How would you re-write is using F-A-D?
“You disgust me!” Mary crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared at him. (A) An overwhelming sense of disappointment rose in her gut. (F)
John shook his head. (A) “Back off, honey, or I’ll burn the toast.
“Go burn the whole meal, for all I care. You’re not a chef anyway.” She moved to the kitchen window and looked out over the backyard (A). How did her life come to this? (F)
The pain of losing his best friend shook his body (F). John gently placed the ladle on the kitchen counter, sighed deeply, and whispered, (A) “Oh yeah, well, just for that I’m never ordering pizza again.”
Mary smiled to herself (F) and turned around to face him (A). He looked so handsome and helpless in that ugly old apron (F). She wrapped her arms around his waist and said, (A) “Suits me fine. But don’t expect a cake for dessert.”
Three simple steps to improving your dialogue!
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