How Tu Use DialogueWe sat across from each other at a corner table. He had suggested the meeting place, and who was I to disagree? Truth be told, I would have met him anywhere for the chance to gather whatever morsels of writing advice he was willing to toss my way. Waiting for the session to begin – with pen in hand and a fresh pad of paper – the whole scenario seemed almost surreal. He ordered his coffee black and proceeded to pour copious amounts of the table sugar into his cup. “I like coffee with my sugar,” he said, as he glanced over at me from the top of his black-rimmed glasses. I managed a half-laugh, but appreciated his attempt to put me at ease. I forced a conversational reply. “I’ve never developed the habit of drinking coffee. I’m more of a diet soda kinda girl.” Leaning back, he tipped his chair so that his back rested against the wall. “Okay…so this is Session One of your One-on-One course with me. Congratulations, by the way, on winning the contest. I like your writing…it’s good.” “Thank you. It’s such an honor to be sitting here…talking to you about writing. I’ve never won anything in my life, but even if I had, I’m pretty sure this would take the cake.” He reached into a black leather satchel that rested in the seat next to him, and pulled out a folder. “I thought we’d start with the story you submitted for the contest. Like I said, I liked it. But, I think there are some things that you could improve upon. In particular, your use of dialogue. Sound good to you?” I shook my head affirmatively. “Yea, sure.” Yea, sure? Did that really just come from my lips? I was sitting across from one of the best-selling authors of all time, who was going to be giving me writing advice, and all I’ve got is Yea, sure? I squared my shoulders and took a deep breath. “I know that dialogue is my weakness. I’d be grateful to hear any suggestions that you might have.” Well. That was better. He pulled a pen from the same black satchel. I envisioned his newly penned manuscript nestled in the folds of the lining – scribbled on and edited by the same pen he was getting ready to use on my story. Moving his chair back to all fours, he leaned over the table and thumped his knuckles on the stack of papers that he’d placed on the table between us. “I like your characters. They’re real, they’re dimensional, and they’re flawed. That’s important, and that’s what caught my attention with your story.” I nodded, waiting to answer because I could tell he had more on his mind. “I think your story would move along better if you used more dialogue. It gives your story momentum and helps to move it forward.” Flipping through the pages, he pointed out various sections of the story. “Like here, and again here…” “Why there? I mean, for future reference, how can I determine where to add dialogue?” I didn’t want to sound juvenile, but I also didn’t want to waste the opportunity to pick his brain. “Well, it has to serve a purpose obviously, and you need to balance out your narrative and your dialogue. As I said, your characters are good – believable. But, you can reveal even more through dialogue. Your protagonist…she’s a very complex individual. Make her dialogue distinctive. When she speaks, the reader should be able to recognize her.” I hurriedly wrote down his suggestions. “Right. Right. I understand what you’re saying. That’s something I’ve actually wrestled with since my protagonist is southern. I find myself wanting to show her accent, but then it seems too much… too forced.” “It’s a fine line,” he said. “But again, it depends upon your characterization. Take for example The Help. It’s filled with phonetically spelled dialogue, but it worked. Brilliantly, in my opinion. But if you’re going to do that, it has to be consistent. The dialogue shouldn’t be a distraction. You don’t want to slow down the pace of the story, leaving your reader trying to figure out what’s being said. Read your dialogue out loud. You’ll be able to sense if it’s believable.” He closed his eyes as his hands formed a v-shape that rested over his mouth. “This is one of my favorite exercises when I’m writing,” he said. “I close my eyes and I picture my characters. Where are they? What are they doing? What would they say in a particular situation?” And then he opened his eyes and a faint smile formed behind his hands. “Go ahead. Give it a go. Shut out all the background noise and imagine the protagonist in your story. Can you see her? She’s in the room. Let her speak for herself.