I couple days ago, I discussed Painting with Dialogue, which involved changing text where you are telling to text where you are showing using dialog. However, what if the text that you need to change is already dialog. How do you paint the dialog itself?

Consider two people conversing. When they talk, do they hold perfectly still? Do they somehow talk without any other movement of their bodies whatsoever? Of course, not! Talking is second nature to us and we are constantly doing other thing while we flap our lips. So when you only write dialog with no body movement, it feels wrong to the reader just like it would look wrong if you saw two people keeping completely still while talking. So ask yourself some basic questions and see if you can make the conversation more natural.

The characters

  • Who is talking?
  • Who is the point of view character? Or are their multiple points of view (omniscient)?
  • What are they doing while speaking?
  • What are the people positioned while speaking?
  • What are their hands doing specifically?
  • What are their faces doing specifically?
  • Do their bodies (face, hand, etc) do anything before or after finishing a sentence?
  • How are they feeling as they talk?
  • Can you paint this feeling on them before, during, or after they speak?
  • What other people are around that aren’t part of the converstaion?

The setting.

  • Where are the people speaking?
  • What is happening in around them in the background?
  • What can they hear/smell/see in their surroundings?
  • What can they feel on their skin (hands, skin, face) that relates to their surroundings?
  • What is the weather like? (Outdoors)
  • What is the lighting like? (Indoors)

Go through the dialog and add some of that in. You don’t have to answer every single question but adding some of this paints the scene of the dialog and makes it come to life for the reader.

Example

In a scene between Jake and Alexis, they sit and eat together. Here is a stiff version.

“You are perspiring,” she remarked.
“I was given warm clothing,” I answered without apology.
“Cool yourself,” she commanded.
Everything about her made me want to obey, and the only reason I didn’t was because I didn’t know how.
“What do you mean?” I asked, eager to comply.
She looked at me questioningly.
“May I?” she asked, putting her hand out for me to take.

Here is little better version. As you can see, I set the scene better to start. I brought in her facial motions.

She sat at a large oak table. Two places were set with expensive dishware. She sat at one of them. I guessed the other was for me and started toward it. The servant confirmed this by gesturing to the seat with her arm. As I sat down, the servant lit a single candle on the table between the girl’s seat and mine, and I was grateful for it because it was the only light in the room.
“You are perspiring,” she remarked, her nose wrinkling slightly.
“I was given warm clothing,” I answered without apology as I adjusted into my seat.
“Cool yourself,” she commanded.
Everything about her made me want to obey, and the only reason I didn’t was because I didn’t know how.
“What do you mean?” I asked, eager to comply.
She looked at me questioningly with red eyes shaded by her straight, black hair, and if possible, the alluring aroma of pumpkin spice increased. I could tell she was hoping my skull wasn’t wrapped in an anti-read-my-thoughts blanket, but it most certainly was. There was no way I was letting her burglar my brain again.
“May I?” she asked, putting her hand out for me to take. The soft skin on her palm invited my hand in.

The above is how it is going into my novel. Ask yourself some questions:

  1. What else could I have done to add more to this scene?
  2. Since I wanted to show Jake having tunnel vision focusing on Alexis’s face, would painting more helped or distracted from this scene?

Feel free to answer these questions in the comments.

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