Tips For Writing Good Dialogue
Have you ever read dialogue that doesn’t sound real to your ears? It stands out. If you’re anything like me, your attention will suddenly shift from the story onto the awkwardness of the wording. If you’re new to the wonderful world of writing, here are some basic tips on writing good dialogue that will sound natural:
Read a lot of books with dialogue
When you read a book which captivates you, go back over the scenes you liked best and observe how the author conveyed his or her message. Look for style points that you might be able to use.
Pay particular attention to the words that are used. Are all the thoughts completely spelled out, or are there short cuts?
Some new writers might wonder about contractions. As a child, I was taught that one never used them in formal writing. Well, they’re a must in dialogue.
Of course, there are times someone might say, “I will not do that!” versus “I won’t do that!” Each version offers a slightly different feeling (“I will not do that!” being stronger, while “I won’t do that!” feels more casual). You’re making a choice, just know it means something to avoid the contraction.
Delete the boring stuff
In real life, we discuss mundane topics, ask each other how we are and usually say good-bye when we leave. This sort of dialogue is terribly boring for a book. No one wants to read it.
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull parts cut out of it.”
As a writer, you must be creative and work out how you can get your point across, forward the story, develop your characters, all while trimming the humdrum.
Watch the dialogue tags
When I started writing, I loved to use any alternative to “he said” I could think of: “She argued” or “He pontificated” or “She moaned” (you get the idea). I went way overboard and it became terribly distracting for my poor readers. It’s much better to stick with the bland “he said.”
Remember that if there are only two characters in the scene who are chatting back and forth, you don’t need a tag each time. Just use them when needed.
Read your dialogue out loud
When you complete your book, leave it alone for a few days to a week before you edit. Then read your dialogue out loud, preferable to someone else. Bad dialogue pops out beautifully this way. Here’s a rule of thumb: if the words don’t slide off your tongue easily, your characters shouldn’t be saying them.
If you’re bored as you read through your book, you need to edit. Don’t worry, that’s normal! Even though you wrote your book, you should be just as enthralled as your readers. When it flows and you get sucked into the story, you know you have a winner.
I know it sounds weird, but if you pick up the new hobby of eavesdropping, it will assist you to write good dialogue. Notice how people chat. What slang do they use? Take notes, observe how they interact. It’s very instructive!
Slang and pop culture references will date your piece, but sometimes that’s very helpful. For instance, if your teenage character said, “Gag me with a spoon. As if!” Well, we’d instantly know that we were in the early 1980’s.
Like your characters, even the evil ones
If you don’t like your characters, at least to some extent, people won’t relate to them. I remember Robert De Niro once told an interviewer that he must really like every character he plays, even if they are evil. Remember, evil people don’t think they’re evil. They have purpose and drive, just like anyone else. Their purpose is just more disturbing.
When you’re writing dialogue for a bad guy, make sure you keep it real. You have to really understand and get his or her viewpoint. Think and talk as they would. Otherwise, your character won’t be believable.
If you need help with dialogue, I’d love to talk. Dialogue driven stories tend to be my favorites. Email me and we’ll sort it out.
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