How To Say Something

“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”

A major problem with writing anything is how to express yourself. How to communicate what’s on your mind in the simplest and most effective way so that the reader feels connected to whatever it is you have to say. As Lewis Turco writes:

“How to say something is more than half the battle.”

Dialogue is one way of doing that. It sort of ‘breaks the ice’ especially since it can bring your characters alive, and it sets the mood of your story and increases the pace. Ray Palmer suggests that you always open with dialogue. Why?

“Because when two people are talking, they have to be talking about something- something your readers can understand without a lot of explanation.”

To be able to use dialogue that is not stilted, but real, the teachers of creative writing tell you the first thing you have to do is develop an ear for dialogue. Listen to how people talk, on the phone, with other people. Listen to how their tone changes while talking with different people. They tell you to carry a notebook and jot down bits of conversations you hear on the metro, on the bus, in shops, etc. Pay special attention to the conflicting verbal patterns of the young and the aged. I have a writer friend who does that. She listens to people talk and copies down their conversation and then uses it in her story. (I tried it a few times myself, but I wasn’t successful.)

In real life people don’t talk the way they do in books. They leave sentences unfinished. They jump from one topic to another. They ask random questions, they use loose grammar, sometimes they even throw words into a sentence without using any verbs.

Years ago, during a summer vacation, my husband and I were visiting a friend in our village. We were sitting with our friend in his garden and conversing over drinks. All of a sudden we heard a neighbor yell out some words. Being curious I remember I tried hard to listen and hear what the neighbor was saying. Our friend who lived there and was used to his neighbor’s ways said rather humorously,

“That’s my neighbor. It’s the way he talks. He can never form a proper sentence. I don’t think he knows what a verb is. He just yells words. Did you hear what he said? “Suzy, girl, tree, water.” ”

I couldn’t help myself and I laughed my heart out. To this day I wonder if there is a way that I can use that particular sentence in my fiction. But wait, words put together without a verb is not a sentence, right? Or is it?


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4 Responses to How To Say Something

  1. How true! A person can still convey a message without perfect grammar, especially in dialogue. Like you said, not everyone speaks with that kind of perfection. Sometimes they almost stutter their words. Trying to form sentences on the spot in a conversation can be a problem for some, especially if they are shy, or excited and can’t find the right words to say. Writers need to keep the personalities of their characters in mind when writing dialogue so it doesn’t seem stilted and unnatural.

  2. Samir says:

    This brings back memories of writing workshops… understanding the difference between how people really talk and how to express it within the permitters of creative fiction- now that was a struggle 😀

    • chichikir says:

      If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have moved from one workshop to the other. I would have just sat down and wrote. I would do as Ray Bradbury suggested:
      “You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads…”

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