This post appeared on day 2 of the Heart Search Blog Tour and was hosted by the amazing Kathleen M Barker, author of Ednor Scardens and The Body Wars. She gave me a subject she wanted me to write about and this was the result.
I’m sure we’ve all been there; we’re engrossed in a book, we get to an emotional scene and the dialogue is so over the top it’s either like eating a whole jar of syrup or drinking a bottle of vinegar. At that point, it leaves you wondering whether it’s worth carrying on to the end or chucking it in the pile to go to the charity shop.
When we’re writing emotional scenes, it’s very easy to get carried away in the moment and swept up in the heartache or declarations of love, especially if you are a romantic at heart. Even some films have dialogue which is over-mushy so you can’t always rely on them to be realistic.
So how do we do it right? How do we keep our dialogue realistic and not over-blown in emotional scenes?
Primarily I would say drawing on your real life experiences. Have you ever had a friend cry on your shoulder over the break-up of a relationship? Have you ever had a friend jilted at the altar? Has a friend ever come to you describing, with excitement over the moment his/her partner first professed their love or proposed? Do you remember a friend coming to you for advice on how to break off a relationship? I’m sure 99% of you can say yes to at least one of those questions.
Think back and try to replay the conversation(s) in your head. Write down what you remember. Even if she was the biggest drama queen going or he was theatrical to the nth degree, it still happened which makes it real. I’m sure some of us can recall more than one discussion, so write down everything you can recall and what the situation was at the time. Now you have something to draw on when writing your own emotional scenes.
Another thing to think about is your own personal experiences. I’m pretty confident when I say the vast majority of us had more than one boyfriend/girlfriend before getting married. So cast your mind back to some of the times when you and your partner parted company or exchanged the ‘I love you’. Think about what you felt, but also what you said to your friends and family about it. Write it down, even if its fragments of dialogue here and there, every little helps.
Put yourself in the minds of your characters (after all, you created them, you know what they’re like and how they think) and write what you think they’d be likely to say. If your character is a toughie who normally rolls with the punches and tells it like it is, they are obviously less likely to be over-emotional and gushy when someone tells them they love them, but then again even the toughest nut can crack. But even if your character is a soft as marshmallow it doesn’t necessarily mean they will pull out an Oscar-winning dramatic performance. This is where knowing your character is key.
When you’ve written an emotional scene, bookmark it and carry on writing. Once you are well past the dramatics, after a couple of days, go back and read the bookmarked section and ask yourself, is this realistic? Would this character talk like this? Refer back to your notes if need be (remembering the age you were when the incident occurred as teens tend to be more melodramatic than adults as a general rule). If it’s over-done, you can scale it back. A good editor will look carefully at these types of sections and will be the first to tell you if there’s not enough or too much emotion and suggest ways to improve it.
In conclusion, if your dialogue isn’t realistic and relatable, your character won’t be either. And if readers can’t connect with your characters, it makes it very difficult for them to enjoy your work.
I hope you found this useful. What are your thoughts on this subject (either as a reader or a writer)? Let me know in the comment form below.