Guest post: Putting Words In Their Mouths – How I Write Dialogue by Kristen Bailey

Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of dialogue, is brought to you by novelist and short story author Kristen Bailey.

Putting Words In Their Mouths – How I Write Dialogue

kristenWhen I was little, I was always slightly in awe of the cinema. I was a child of the eighties, when films were always a big event and I spent many hours with my sister and brother watching films over and over again until the video tapes sometimes snapped. It didn’t stop there, we would re-enact them, and commit a vast repertoire of classic lines to memory. I would like to say I’ve matured a lot since then, but still now Sunday lunch will be spent with the three of us quoting entire scenes from films that no-one else has seen, to the despair of my parents who wonder where they went wrong raising us…

It’s why I often think I’m obsessed with dialogue when I write. It’s the part of writing I actually love the most as it gives my characters life and purpose. By rights, this means I should probably be a screenwriter but instead I write contemporary women’s fiction where dialogue always features heavily and which often has to have an acerbic comedy edge to it. Does this mean my work is brimming with one-liners and jokes? Not really, and especially when it comes to dialogue. Few people speak like stand-up comedians and I know immediately if I’ve forced a joke in my dialogue as it will feel unnatural on reading it aloud. A lot of comedy is actually in the delivery and the situation, but it’s also not always explicit. It can be observational or paired with the reaction of someone’s inner thoughts. An editor once gave me the good advice to limit the amount of swearing I used in dialogue too. Saying ‘f***’ a lot can be amusing but can be jarring to read in print. It’s far funnier to be inventive instead: consider the usual ‘f****** hell!’ and how a replacement like ‘mother of arsebiscuits!’ is more memorable yet equally as impactful.

In both my novels, Souper Mum and Second Helpings, I also gave myself the challenge of tackling a variety of dialects; Tommy McCoy is a Mockney TV chef, Jools’ husband, Matt is Scottish, his mother Italian, Cam is American and Remy, Luella’s husband is French. Why not just ensure all my characters are from South London? Well, where would be the fun in that! I think it’s a tribute to my background and line of work. I’ve always loved, listening to the way that people talk; the intonation, the rhythm, the dialect that sets any one speaker apart from another. I trained and worked as a teacher of English as a foreign language so have always been fine tuned into listening to people’s accents but it’s also something I grew up with having a Singaporean mother and Guyanese father. Of course, authenticity is key here, so when writing dialogue in dialect I always read it aloud. My husband knows this better than most as he often wanders into a darkened room confused as to why I’m doing bad impressions of Shrek…

Inspiration to write dialogue can come from different sources too. I am admittedly a bit nosy and a great eavesdropper, nothing gives me greater joy than being sat on a crowded train and being inspired by two drunk people having a conversation about nothing. Because sometimes conversations have no purpose, their credibility is in their normality. In Second Helpings especially, there are scenes between Matt and Jools littered with incomplete sentences and a conversational ‘shorthand’ that is often evident between couples who have lived with each other for so long that they implicitly know what the other is talking about. In these scenes, economy is key: the prose takes over but I annotate the action with periods of comfortable silence too.

However, I’m still a TV/film addict too. I believe some of the best writing today is on television, and hearing dialogue being read out, as it should, can give you such great clues into how people really speak. Orange is The New Black has some of the best one-liners I’ve ever heard, the dialogue is not only slick but the comedy comes with how quick they spew out those lines, one on top of the other. For comedy inspiration, I always go back to shows like New Girl, Sex and the City, Modern Family and anything by Graham Linehan.

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Short Story Saturday 010: Sexy Shorts charity anthologies

Welcome to the Short Story Saturday review slot and the tenth review in this series. This week’s is of the Sexy Shorts charity anthologies by Accent Press.

Anyone who knows me or has been following this blog will know how much I love my short stories and none more so than funny ones (and dark ones) and the Sexy Shorts series are just my thing. Although the stories are predominantly written by women (and quite probably for women), Robert Barnard, Bill Harris and David Wass to name three of the male contributors, they have something for everyone. Each book is themed and I have…

  • Sexy Shorts for Summer: including stories by Cathy Kelly, Fiona Walker, Adele Parks, Carole Matthews, Jane Wenham Jones, Lynne Barrett-Lee and over thirty others. One of my favourites (and not because she’s a prospective interviewee but probably because it’s about two writers :)) is short story author, novelist and writing guru Della Galton’s story ‘Waiting’. As you would expect these stories are written with a summer theme but in most cases this is just timing and with titles such as Julie Cohen’s ‘Whipped Cream Dreams’ (I’ll never see Sainsbury’s and stationery binders in the same light :)) and Sara Sheridan’s ‘HP Sauce’ just make sure you’ve eaten before you start reading them. Julie Cohen did a talk last weekend, by the way, at the Chipping Norton Literature Festival, on writing sex scenes – it was fantastic! 🙂
  • Staying on the topic of food is the Sexy Shorts for Chef collection, foreworded by Anthony Worrall Thompson. As you would expect they revolve around food but are so varied that you get caught up with the story not the theme. Top names such as Adele Parks, Sophie King and Veronica Henry mix with lesser known authors and that’s what I love about these collections, even if you think you know an author’s writing, there are still pleasant surprises in store… occasionally perhaps where a novelist is outside their comfort zone (although this is not a bad thing).
  • Jane, Katie Fforde and Sue Moorcroft appear amongst many others (including better-known-for-her-crime-writing Lesley Cookman) in Sexy Shorts for Christmas and although you would expect all the stories in this collection to be Christmas-themed (and best read at that time of year) surprisingly they’re not; Jane’s (hilarious Carla’s Gift) and Lesley’s (Wedding Day) being two of the exceptions and like the others in the series they’re so varied that they needn’t be themed at all.
  • Sexy Shorts for the Beach is another light read and as ‘Woman’ magazine put it, “A fine collection of heart-warming stories”. Of course there are levels of heart-warming but suffice to say they all have a degree of ‘sexy’. Regular short story authors in this collection include Jan Jones, Linda Mitchelmore and Sally Quilford.

With each story averaging less than 10 pages they’re perfect for a coffee (or my case, tea) break. Whatever your taste in short story, there’s something for everyone here and with a contribution from every new copy sold going to Cancer Research, even if the book sits on your shelf you’ll have had a warm glow from knowing you did your good deed for the day… or in my case four of them. 🙂

If you’d like to submit your story (50 to 2,500 words) for review take a look here.

Mystery / suspense author and interviewee Patricia Gligor’s spotlight follows shortly then the blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with short story author, article writer and 30-day challengee Christopher Starr – the three hundred and fifty-forth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo. My eBooks are also now on Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.