Write Great Dialogue
When a book has poor dialogue, the reader’s attention is quite suddenly ripped from the story and shifts to the awkwardness of the passage.
Honestly, writing great dialogue isn’t hard. It just requires a bit of practice and study.
Read books to write great 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. Later, I learned that isn’t always true.
Sure there are times when a character might shout, “I will not do that!” If you read that line out loud, you’ll probably find yourself punching each word individually. I…Will…Not…Do…That! However, most of the time, in a normal (not yelling) conversation, the character would use a contraction. “I won’t do that!” It is more casual. And that’s often the right way to go.
Delete the boring stuff
In real life, we sometimes carry on very mundane conversations.
“How are you?”
“Good. And you?”
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 was starting out as a writer, 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.”
If you have two characters in a scene, you can skip most of the tags. Just pop them in as needed.
“Last night was rough,” Jane said.
Mary nodded. “You’re telling me. I’m sore all over.”
“Think we’ll be called in again tonight?”
“It’s Tuesday,” Mary said. “Nobody wants to see us wrestle on a Tuesday.”
Read your dialogue out loud
When you complete your book, leave it alone for a few days to a week before you edit. Give yourself time away from the piece.
Now, read your dialogue out loud.
Bad dialogue pops out beautifully when you do this.
Here’s a rule of thumb: if the words don’t slide off your tongue easily, your character will trip over them, too. As will your reader.
Note: If you’re bored as you read through the dialogue, 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.
Write great dialogue by eavesdropping
I know it sounds weird, but if you eavesdrop on the conversations of strangers, it will assist you to write great dialogue.
Really listen. How do people naturally chat? What slang do they use? Take notes. Observe them. It’s very instructive.
Keep in mind that slang and pop culture references will date your piece. This can be helpful.
“Groovy, Daddy-o…” would put us in a different era than “Gag me with a spoon.”
“Wassup?” was huge in the 90’s, whereas the term “newbie” really only came into popularity this century.
I’m always learning about the ways people put together words. I find it fascinating.
Like your characters, even the evil ones
If you don’t like a character in your book, at least to some extent, they probably won’t be authentic.
Robert De Niro said in an interview that he must really like every character he plays; even the evil ones. He has to be able to relate to them in some way in order to get the audience on board.
Evil people don’t think they’re evil. They have purpose and drive, just like anyone else. Their purpose is just more disturbing.
If you want to write great 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 to with dialogue, email me and we’ll sort it out. Dialogue driven stories tend to be my favorites.
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