I’m speaking as an editor/manuscript consultant. Whether you are writing fiction or narrative non-fiction, employing dialogue that not only represents each character’s personality but also gives clues in an entertaining way will move your story forward.
How important is dialogue in a memoir or novel? Re-read your favorite story and study the author’s techniques.
When I’m not editing for my wonderful clients, I study dialogue in movies.
Since a script usually doesn’t offer narrative or internal monologue to supplement “words” the way a book does, dialogue (and how the lines are delivered) is an essential component in story-telling. I love smart dialogue.
In the movie Woman Chases Man (1937), protagonist Virginia Travis, a starving architect (Miriam Hopkins) sees three portraits in the living room of B.J. Nolan (Charles Winninger).
Virginia: (She sees a portrait of a little boy holding Pilgram’s Progress) “Who’s that?”
BJ: “My son Kenneth.”
Virginia: (She’s looking at the second portrait–a teenage boy holding the same book) “ Another son?”
BJ: “Same one. Age sixteen.”
Virginia: “Must be a slow reader.”
Virginia: (She looks at third portrait–a young man in his cap and gown, holding diploma) “I see he finished the book.”
BJ: “Yeah, he has the checkbook now.”
Virginia: “I had a checkbook once.”
The story is launched, with B. J. and Virginia scheming to get Kenneth (Joel McCrae) to sign a check. By the way, young Broderick Crawford’s portrayal of Hunk (friend of Virginia, disguising as B.J.’s butler) is hilarious.
Screen play by Joseph Anthony, Mannie Seff and David Hertz
Original story by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton
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In Cold Comfort Farm (1995) screenplay by Malcolm Bradbury, from the novel by Stella Gibbons (1930s), protagonist Flora Poste (recently orphaned) moves to the country to live with her relatives so that she can live on her modest 100 pounds a year and be a novelist. Flora’s relations are odd in deed. The mysterious matriarch, Flora’s Great Aunt Ada, doesn’t leave her room because she suffers from a terrifying memory of an event. As a girl, Ada had seen “something nasty in the wood shed” and now decades later she still has recurring nightmares. Flora is the first person to ask Aunt Ada questions, which serves as the turning point in the story. As it turns out, Aunt Ada doesn’t remember what she saw. But she won’t let go of her suffering (or let her family leave the farm either).
Toward the end of the story when a movie Czar Mr. Neck comes to the farm to take her grandson Seth to Hollywood . . . Great Aunt Ada comes running out of the house . . .
Great Aunt Ada : “I saw something nasty in the wood shed.”
Mr. Neck: “Sure you did, but did they see you Baby?”
Coach Teresa here. I emailed my friend Margaret Davis (author of Straight Down the Middle) to ask her if she has seen the movie and Margaret replied:
“My mother had a selection of novels in our house when I was growing up. I was an avid reader, and I read, and reread, many of them over and over. I knew Cold Comfort Farm by heart! I also enjoyed Stella Gibbons’s book Nightingale Wood (also knew it by heart as a child!), and I know my own writing is definitely influenced by her.”
Happy New Year & New Writing Energy to Everyone!
Remember to employ dialogue that not only represents each character’s personality but also gives clues in an entertaining way to move your story forward.
Manuscript Consultant / Writing Career Coach / Author / Publisher
Teresa loves to edit thrillers, mysteries, women’s novels, memoirs, children’s and young adult fiction with quirky or feisty protagonists.