A fan (oh that I never tire saying that) recently told me that I “write talk good.” Dialogue is one of my favorite literary devices. I was delighted to hear that someone thought I used it well. Tons of people have given tips on how to write well- how to write TALK good is a whole different story. Writing believable dialogue is not hard. Following are some tips that I find breathes life into the conversations the characters in my books have with one another.
There are a few reasons why you as a writer might want to use dialogue in the first place. Dialogue can and should fulfill several functions. No matter how finely crafted, if your dialogue does not advance the plot of your narrative or reveal something about the characters that cannot be understood otherwise, you should rewrite it.
Expositions of background or past events are interesting if characters provide the information and especially so in a discussion. If you are like me a rule breaker when you take on the cardinal rule of writing show, don’t tell make your characters tell and make what they tell specific. That little trick makes it paramount for you the writer to know your characters. Just like in real life you can’t go around putting words in other people’s mouths. The words have to fit. Your characters don’t have to be in a war of words to create a little conflict in the story, but no better place to do so than in dialogue. We all know conflict drives the narrative, right? Using the vernacular adds color and texture to your dialogue and interest for your readers.
I regularly eavesdrop on conversations at restaurants, airports and especially places where I might find one of my characters. I don’t listen to specifics, not the words so much as the cadence and tone. Dialogue adds a musical element to stories. You can speed up the tempo like in music with short choppy dialogue or slow it down with long-winded expositions.
Making and keeping a list of synonyms for the verb to say is extremely helpful. He said/she said gets tiresome very fast. If it’s clear who is speaking, you can forgo any reference to the speaker.
Unless you can hear dialect and accents clearly, do not attempt to write them. Dialect done well is superb, but know that you run the risk of irritating or sometimes even offending your reader. Dialect is more difficult to read, so it can take away from the narrative. You might be wondering, why did I do it in my books? Hey, what can I say? I live dangerously. Describing a character’s speech pattern is easier on the writer and the reader. Even so, the dialect that misses can deflate a story faster than a sharp pin on a balloon.
If you’d like to write-talk good, eavesdrop, know when and why you are using dialogue, don’t just put words in your characters’ mouths and above all, don’t make your readers work too hard!