Writing Dialogue: Keeping It Real
Writing dialogue can be difficult for some new authors. It’s tough to keep it real while maintaining the pace of the story at a brisk jog. But don’t despair. Give yourself time to work it out. And in the end, when you’ve mastered it, your readers will forget they are reading a book; rather, they’ll be transported to your world.
Why dialogue is important
What people say helps us understand who they are and how they think. So the dialogue in your book brings the readers directly into the center of the action, allowing them to feel what the characters are feeling and thinking in real time.
By using great dialogue an author establishes a character’s voice. Through their speech patterns, dialect, use of proper grammar (or not), we can learn a lot about the people in your book.
Remember the axiom Show Don’t Tell is key to excellent writing. Dialogue is instrumental in showing the reader what you want them to know. Through the conversations in your book, we can learn more about the time period of the story and discover truths in a way that doesn’t require a lot of explaining.
Dialogue can set the tone of the emotional tone of a character. For instance, angry people tend to be terse, as are introverted or shy folk. They don’t usually use a lot of words to express themselves. On the other end of the spectrum are the people who use flowery words and tend to ramble without realizing it. This can show volumes about a character.
A writer can reveal important qualities in their characters through dialogue without resorting to telling the reader that Joe is angry, or Sarah is shy.
Writing dialogue takes practice and study
If you wish to hone your skill, I’d recommend finding a quiet spot in a bustling area and eavesdropping on passersby. You’re not listening to the content of the conversations as much as to the styles of expression. What do the various kinds of dialogues communicate to you? Think about the impressions they make on you. Having been a writer all my life, I am always listening to the way people speak. It’s fascinating to me how people communicate thoughts to each other in a variety of ways.
Another great source for learning about great dialogue is to read books that you love over again. Pay special attention to the dialogue. Notice how the author shows you what the characters are feeling. Does it feel like you’re eavesdropping? Notice that it’s not simply the words they speak, but the ways they communicate that create the effect it does on you.
Create interesting characters
When creating fascinating three-dimensional characters, writing dialogue can be as easy as just listening to good friends speak. The words tend to fall out of their imaginary mouths with ease. When this happens to me, I feel a bit like a transcriber just writing down what I hear.
If you’re having trouble writing dialogue for your novel, step back and work on developing your main characters. Really get to know them. It might help to set up an imaginary interview and jot down notes.
For instance, let’s say your main character is a nurse from New Haven, Connecticut. Why is he a nurse? Which hospital does he work in and why does he choose to stay there? What does he do in his spare time? Does he have a family?
Pretend that you’re meeting this nurse for the first time and ask questions with abandon. Don’t hold back! You might be surprised by the answers you receive.
Now do the same with all the other characters.
Once you understand your characters better, invent a scene and just allow them to talk to each other. The subject doesn’t matter. Just let them develop their style and voice and take notes.
Writing dialogue is my favorite part of writing. It allows me to create three-dimensional characters that seem to breathe and find a life of their own. What’s more fun and rewarding than that?
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