Dialogue is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult aspects of a story. That is because dialogue is such a common occurrence in readers’ lives. Just as badly done animation of people is creepy, badly written dialogue comes off as fake and vaguely menacing. There is nothing worse to read than a cliché-ridden, stilted, and obviously forced line of dialogue.
From the dime store novels of the past to Harlequin romances of today, you can find examples of bad dialogue everywhere. But what is good dialogue? How can you write it? What should you look for? What should you avoid? Here are some tips to make your dialogue writing successful:
1. Listen to real people
The first thing a writer should do if they want to write realistic dialogue is to listen to real people talk. Listen on the bus, listen in line at the grocery store, listen to your coworkers talk. What do they talk about? How do they talk? They usually do not use whole sentences, they don’t use correct grammar, and many times they share in jokes. All these little things add up to more realistic dialogue than what you would write normally. Try to incorporate real speech patterns into your dialogue for the best effect.
2. Avoid the info dump
No one blathers on for pages about the past or their history unless they have a really good reason. If your character is being interrogated, is a police officer filling in a report, or a doctor informing a patient of a diagnosis then an info dump is fine. Otherwise avoid it! Try to fill in the blanks some other, less obvious way. Think of it like this: if you were hired as anew employee, no one would sit you down and fill you in on all the office gossip. But you would eventually still learn about it. How? A little at a time. Let your readers have the same opportunity to piece together clues to get the whole picture.
3. Use slang
Slang is a part of our everyday conversations. From common words like “cool” and “whatever” to more colloquial phrases like “shooting the bull” and “burying the hatchet,” slang is a frequent part of dialogue in real life and should be in realistically written works as well. Try not to go overboard or use slang so often that it becomes confusing, but a little slang and even some vulgarities can give us an indication of who the character is by how they speak. (Keep in mind that the more cuss words are used, typically the lower the education level of the character becomes.)
4. Accent overkill
Accents should not be overused either. I have many times read a book where the accent of a character was so annoying I skipped over him whenever he spoke. Do not be that writer. Mention an accent and give some indications of the speech pattern, but do not let it overwhelm your dialogue.
5. Make it clear who is talking
A pet peeve of mine is dialogue that switches between characters with little to no indication of who is saying what. Using “he” and “she” is all well and good if two characters of opposite genders are the only ones in the room. But if you have a large group, that is just not going to cut it. Even a small group can become confusing if not properly labeled.
6. Watch your formatting
Another thing I find super annoying is improperly formatted dialogue. Each speaker’s dialogue should be given a separate paragraph.It’s simple! When I see lines and lines of many characters’ dialogue all bunched together in one big paragraph, that is one story that will go unread, no matter how good it is.
7. If it is normal don’t say it
Even though you want to mimic real-life speech patterns,that does not mean your dialogue should be boring. If you have a bunch of people sitting around saying nothing, then don’t write it. You can say something like, “They waited and chatted,” without having to show the chatting. It is okay, I promise.
8. If it’s weird, spell it out
“Alex confessed her love for Jim with a double haiku” is weird enough to writethe scene.When it comes to dialogue, less is usually more. Try to only write dialogue when characters have something to say or when it builds on the plot.People don’t talk as much as you might would think. Don’t make characters so verbosethat the reader losses track of the story.
Tell me your opinion: What is your greatest struggle in writing good dialogue?