WRITING DIALOGUE in your MEMOIR
#10 in the Memoirabilia podcast series on How to Write Memoir
based on the book, “Don’t Write Your MEmoir without ME’
If you can talk, and make readers hear others talking when you are writing your memoir, you can write dialogue!
Why are so many writers afraid of writing dialogue?
Actually, why are so many memoir writers afraid of writing dialogue?
Is it because they know memoir is supposed to be all true and memoirists are afraid they cannot write exactly what so-and-so said 20. 30, 40 years ago?
Of course you can’t remember the exact words. No-one expects you to say exactly what someone said decades ago. But that’s no reason to then avoid writing dialogue altogether and just narrate the entire story. How bloody boring that would be! Unless you’re a really talented narrator, your memoir could end up reading like a documentary…all one-sided and giving only the narrator’s viewpoint on everything.
What’s more, characters fail to come alive when we only see them through one person’s eyes ie…the narrator. Readers want characters to reveal themselves, like they do in a TV show. Picture yourself watching your favorite sit-com. Is someone narrating every conflict, feeling etc on the screen? No way! The characters are moving across the scene, talking or shouting or screaming at each other. As they do, viewers are forming opinions of those characters based on what they say and do. They sense immediately what that character is feeling when he/she slams the door when shouting, “I’ve had it with you! I’m out of here. If you want to discuss this any further, call my lawyer.”
So how do you write dialogue like that? Just picture the scene, the characters on the screen and write what they are saying to each other:
“Mary, have you calmed down enough to discuss this in a civilized manner?”
“Are you saying I’m uncivilized?
“Well, the way you are talking and acting, I guess I am.”
“Really John? Well then why don’t you just get out and leave me the hell alone?”
Can you see how much more effective that dialogue is in creating the same tension in the reader as the characters are feeling? Now, look at how that would go if one person, Mary, were narrating this scene and conversation:
John looked at me and asked me if I’d calmed down enough to discuss all this in a civilized manner. I felt offended by his implication that I wasn’t civilized and told him so. I asked him in what way was I being uncivilized. He said the way I was talking and acting was uncivilized. That’s when I decided I’d had enough and told him he should just get out and leave me the hell alone.
Now before you say, well that works too, let me ask you if you’d like 300 pages of a memoir to read like that? Case closed.
Bottom line: while you might not be able to remember the exact words, just get as close to them as you can and make sure the words sound natural and capture the feelings that existed in a conversation at the time that conversation took place. Once written, read the lines of dialogue OUT LOUD. Doing so will help you decide if the dialogue sounds natural. If you’re writing about someone your son, daughter or other relative knows well, get them to read the dialogue. They will soon tell you if that sounds like s0-and-so or not.
Anyway, listen to the podcast of Chapter 10 of “Don’t Write Your MEmoir without ME’ to get all the tips and ideas contained in the book on how to write dialogue. This is one of the most important chapters in this book, and writing dialogue is one of the principal areas when memoirists fall flat. Don’t fall flat. Learn how to write dialogue by listening to the podcast of this chapter or better yet, buy your own copy of “Don’t Write Your MEmoir without ME’ now.
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