November 27 Activity: Direct dialog in a memoir adds the sound of a character.
There are two ways characters can speak in a story. One way is called direct dialogue. When you write she asked, “How are you doing today?” you are using direct dialogue. Direct dialogue requires quotation marks. When you use direct dialogue in a memoir you are saying this is actually what the speaker said. This is different from indirect dialog.
Indirect dialogue, on the other hand, is used when you are not sure of the exact words that a person may have used. When you write she asked how you were doing, you are using indirect dialogue. Note that there is no use of quotation marks. You are asserting that this is the gist of the conversation but not necessarily the conversation verbatim.
In this blog post, we will look at ways to maximize the use of direct dialogue in a memoir.
Effective ways to create a direct dialogue in a memoir include:
- Keeping it short. A lengthy dialogue leads the reader to ask how in the world can the writer possibly remember all of that dialogue! In short, the reader tends to not believe long dialogue. “Sure you remember exactly what your Aunt Rita said at the Labor Day picnic in 1977!” An example of ineffective dialog is to be found in the 1990s best seller Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. In it, he offers a hundred-word dialog followed by a hundred-word response followed by another hundred words. And this is remembered by a six year old! “Is McCourt a memoir prodigy or fiction writer?” the reader may well ask in a direct dialog!
- Conveying feeling. If you want to impart information, place that in the narrative not in the dialogue. “How wonderful!” conveys feeling. “I was happy because I used the information I had gathered on the net to buy the property at a discount” is about information. This information belongs in the narrative. “How wonderful!” I said, having used the information I had gathered on the net to buy property at a discount.
1. Go through your stories and introduce direct dialog.
- He said he would not come is indirect dialog. It can be changed to direct dialog. He said, “I will not come.”
- Many adjectives can be changed into dialog. She was angry can become, “Don’t you ever speak to me in that tone again or I’ll knock you down. I don’t care where we are!”
2. Make a list of pet words and phrases of your characters and place them in a dialog.
- As dark as the inside of a pocket, my great-grandmother would say as she told me a scary story.
We have helped many people whose lives demanded to be recorded but who themselves were not writers to create interesting and well-written memoirs.
We listen to you speak your story. We ask you a multitude of questions. Then we get to work writing. We come back to you with text and you make lots of corrective comments and we ask you a whole lot of new questions. Then, we go back to writing again.
Over time, your story develops into a memoir—one that you have shaped at every stage of the writing process.
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