Doing Dialogue

NOTE: In this series of articles we’re looking specifically at how I self-edit, this doesn’t mean you have to use my methods, these articles are examples of the way I work. They may help you, or at least give you some tips, or they may not.

These articles compare Hysteria The First Draft and the version of Hysteria published as part of Victorian Mistress.


Dialogue is one of my favourite parts of writing, but can also be the trickiest. I want each character to have their own voice but I’m not fond of phonetic speech, though I don’t mind a bit. I prefer to focus on rhythm, word choice and what a character says. I find what they say and what they don’t say to be the most important part of the dialogue.

The most obvious example in Hysteria is Charlotte’s conversation with The Earl where they’re talking about sex but neither of them say sex, through the thin veil they could be talking about reading and libraries. Whereas this is a conversation the Bran we meet in the first story wouldn’t have because he’d be too embarrassed. If Bran was going to talk about books and libraries than he’d talk about actual books and libraries.

This creates an immediate and obvious difference in Charlotte and Bran’s speech because any line where sex is discussed in complete comfort is bound to be Charlotte’s, not Bran’s. If I wrote Bran a sex joke in Hysteria it would immediately stand out because it would be out of character, the reader could easily spot it and say, ‘that’s not Bran, you got it wrong’. When Bran does, unintentionally, say something that could be interpreted as a double entendre he becomes immediately uncomfortable, which is reflected in his body language.

As I said in a previous article I cut this entire section of speech because it didn’t fit Charlotte’s voice:

I turned to look towards the door The Earl had left by. ‘Rich is he?’

‘Very.’

‘It’s a pity it would kill him,’ I replied and threw myself down into the armchair. ‘A woman could make a lot of money from a man of his resources.’

The note of red in Bran’s cheeks became more than distinct.

‘I don’t know what you’re blushing about.’ I said

Hysteria The First Draft

Charlotte was callus to Bran in her speech and it didn’t fit with the way I was developing that she would speak to him. Nor did it fit her motives as she was trying to make him feel wanted.

Another element of speech I look at is where I can replace the spoken words with movement. For example, I could’ve written Bran saying that her words made him uncomfortable but instead I chose to show it by describing him blushing, which almost becomes part of his speech because he blushes so easily. He often looks at his shoes or fidgets when he’s uncomfortable rather than saying he is. Another example is at the beginning of the story where instead of the footman verbally disapproving of Charlotte I had him cough when she goes to touch a book; given the time the story is set it would’ve been unacceptable for him to speak rudely to the ‘wife’ of a club member so I had to consider non-verbal ways to reveal his attitude.

While Hysteria has examples of me removing speech there are few examples of me cutting it down. Perhaps because I’ve reach a point in my person writing technique, I emphasis personal, where I don’t generally put in the bits I used to cut out such as excessive uses of ‘um’s’ and ‘ah’s’, usually it’s now word repetitions, unnecessary words, or rephrasing to develop the character’s voice that I do during editing. As with my description I often cut the speech right down so long paragraphs of speech become a few lines, if I can get away with it which I sometimes can’t because sometimes long speeches are necessary. Dialogue in other episodes of Victorian Mistress, often ones with a lot of verbal exposition, will be cut down the same way I described when I was discussing narrative exposition in a previous article.

For me, personally, it all comes down to the question of: What do I need and where do I need it? This often hinges not only on the story I’m telling but the character’s attitudes and motivations; what they would say, what they wouldn’t, how they would say it and why they would say it.


Article Archive 1

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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