My title 

11 ways to write great dialogue, by Claire Scobie

by: Jennifer Richardson on

This week I started Italian classes in preparation for my upcoming Travel Writing in a Palace retreat. I love languages and Italian, as we all know, is particularly passionate and evocative.

Years ago, I spent a summer learning Italian in Perugia. I have a vivid memory of sitting on sun-baked steps eating a mozzarella-filled panini dripping with olive oil and fresh oregano. I remember thinking, ‘There is nothing better than this.’ I’ve never tasted a sandwich like it.

So even though my grammar is very rusty and I’ve forgotten half my vocab, just being in the class made it all rush back. Afterwards I walked through Leichhardt – little Italy, for those who don’t know – and wanted to say ‘Ciao’ to everyone I met.

Of course, it wasn’t the exercises that made me excited, it was watching the teacher and being part of the group. I was mesmerised by her gestures. How she joked and drew everyone into the conversation; how she listened, her head cocked to the side. How she conducted the evening class as if it was an orchestra.

Capturing how a person talks is crucial to making your characters come alive on every page.

Here are 11 ways to keep your dialogue fresh:
  1. Interleave dialogue with action. This helps create a scene so the reader feels like they are seeing something in real time. i.e. She picked up the cup. ‘It’s chipped,’ she said. ‘Mother won’t be pleased.’
  2. Use ‘telling gestures’ that reflect the character of the person who’s talking. These also help to break up quotes.
  3. Condense an exchange. We don’t need every ‘um’ and ‘aagh’.
  4. Paraphrase some sections as a way to cut to the chase. If you paraphrase, you don’t need punctuation, as you’re not quoting the person word for word.
  5. Edit your dialogue to the strongest moments. Avoid those waffly bits – this is especially true in fiction where there’s a tendency to let dialogue drag. Keep it sharp.
  6. Include information – or exposition – in dialogue. Be aware this needs a light touch (especially in fiction.)
  7. Show what isn’t said between characters with ellipsis. i.e. ‘I was hoping you’d stay …’ she trailed off.
  8. Capture the rhythm of how a non-English speaker talks, rather than relying on dialect.
  9. Include a few foreign words to get the flavour of the language & include the English translation. i.e ‘Basta! Enough!’ said the mother as the child stamped her feet. (You can italicise the foreign word if you want.)
  10. Keep with ‘said’ as your speech tag. Writers often worry that ‘he said/she said’ gets boring, so they replace it with umpteen other words. Actually we don’t notice these tags when reading and it’s distracting if you have ‘hollered / murmured / responded’ etc.
  11. Be careful with swear words. They come across much more strongly in text than in speech

So over to you, how do you use dialogue to humanise your stories?

Join me in Italy this August for a special travel writing retreat. Early bird bookings are now being taken for Travel Writing in a Palace 2014

Bali Blessings: Day nine

by: Jennifer Richardson on

Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.

Brian Tracy

I like this quote. It is a blessing to have an attitude of gratitude. A few months ago my work contract with my main source of income fell through. When it happened it was traumatic because I wasn't sure how I would survive, but now I am grateful because I can now go forth and do what I love. I now 'have a life that works' and am based in a place (Bali) that understands and supports this lifestyle of the entrepreneurial gypsy.

Singabout started up 10 years ago as a hobby. I wanted to go out and discover new tribes, to dance the dances and sing their songs. It has been an incredible learning and I am so very grateful to all of you who came on that original journey and those who continue to come on these magical journeys. You have all taught me so much. I look forward to the next 10 years.

Jen xx

Photo: 2004 Singing in Tuscany group with Rachel Hore and Kavisha Mazzella.

Bali Blessing: Day seven

by: Jennifer Richardson on

OK a different type of blessing and this is not in Bali it is in Italy but I watched in Bali so I am blessed in Bali!

Hand gestures of Italy by Caurucci

by: Jennifer Richardson on

 Emergency traveler's language guide to survive in Italy- Very helpful for our Festa and Fun in Mercatello sul Metuaro!


Anita Daulne workshops in Italy and Bali 2014

by: Jennifer Richardson on

We are SO looking forward to having workshop retreat with Anita Daulne in Bali and in Italy in 2014. Ok men and women, get ready!

Anita talks about her workshops and her thinking behind it here on this lovely little video.