If there’s one thing that can ruin an otherwise good book, it’s bad dialogue.
We listen to and participate in conversations on a daily basis––either in our lives or on tv. So why is it so challenging to write?
Dialogue is an important aspect of fiction. It helps us to get to know our characters’ personalities and learn about how they interact with each other. It also gives us hints to our setting and history.
Make it important
Writers are notorious for using dialogue to information dump because it seems like an easy way to build setting or backstory. Or writers will go the opposite route, afraid to overdo it, they refrain from writing dialogue at all. Obviously, there’s a balance.
Conversations between characters should leave us with more information than we had before. Instead of dumping information, use dialogue as a way to draw readers’ attention to information that is pertinent to the plot. It’s OK to leave a little bit of mystery; readers don’t need to know all the details immediately. Be patient.
Avoid small talk; dialogue should be a marker that something important is unfolding in the story. Readers will understand that not every “pass the milk” needs to be recorded.
Keep it natural
To make the dialogue sound natural and not stuffy, try reading it out loud. You could ask a friend to read through it with you.
The best research you can do is just listen to people around you. Do they have a certain word or phrase they use (“you know”, “yeah”, “of course”)? How do shy people communicate? Is there anything different in how an extrovert expresses themselves?
We use body language in our everyday conversations, and your characters should as well. A sly glance or shrug can actually say more than spoken words. Body language is another thing you should take note of in your personal life.
Stay in character
Make sure to note those interpersonal subtleties, and incorporate them into your characters. By being consistent with these personality markers and conversation quirks, you are building more diverse and relatable characters.
I make detailed notes for each of my characters about how they interact with others, common phrases, and typical body language. This might sound like a lot of work, but it will help you to stay consistent.
There’s so much information out there about writing dialogue, and there are a lot of techniques to it. Ultimately, how you decide to portray conversation is up to you, but an editor who is experienced with fiction is also a great resource! Another set of eyes is an invaluable asset. Join the conversation about dialogue, writing, and editing on Twitter (@autumnB_editor).