It’s time for this week’s writing tutorial. Let’s talk. Literally! This week it’s all about…dialogue.
Writing Tutorial: Writing Good Dialogue
Disclaimer: The information presented herein is based on what I, personally, have learned in my educational and professional careers. This tutorial is simply meant to offer some helpful tips.
One of the biggest problems I notice people have, or that I’ve been asked about, is regarding dialogue. I figured I’d send some tips out into the web-o-sphere to help with you on your journey to writing convincing dialogue.
Every kind of story—whether it is a play, TV show or novel—is bound to include some sort of dialogue. It’s what gives your characters life, propels a lot of your plot along, and shapes many of your scenes
1) Observe the interactions between people. Watch a television show, play (or be sneaky and people-watch at a café), and pay attention to their conversations. How long/short are their sentences? What tone do they use? What about their vocabulary? What is their body language like? Facial expressions?
You may not realize it until you start paying attention, but how someone converses is a big reflection of their personality. This is why dialogue becomes so important in writing; it is where a lot of your characters’ development can come from.
2) Be mindful of your characters. You know all about your characters—their age, ethnicity, history, quirks, likes, dislikes, etc.—but it’s no good for them to stay in your head. Now you must bring them to life for your readers. The information you know about your characters is vital in making them talk.
For example, if you’re main character is a 28 year-old man from Louisiana, you better not give him a Boston accent or let him fling “like” and “o-m-g!” around like a teenager.
3) When using dialogue, don’t use it to explain something obvious. If you need to use dialogue to further explain things to your readers, then you should probably consider revising. For example, if your character is an astronaut on a solo mission, you don’t need him/her telling the onboard computer that they are on a solo mission. That’d just be…weird.
4) Act it out. When inserting dialogue, play the role of your character. By reading out loud, you will discover the various speech patterns and gestures that accompany dialogue. It will become easier to then include these attributions, as well.
5) Be real, yo. Similar to the above, be sure your dialogue mimics real-life situations. In reality, you might respond to someone’s comments with a question, so make your character do so, too. Include questions, interruptions, sarcastic comments, etc. to make the interaction seem more realistic.
6) Be judicious with the attributions. “Said” and “Asked” are probably the most well-known attributions, but they can come with a price. If you put “he said” after every sentence your character speaks, it will get hella annoying to read. Remember that attributions should only be used to remind the reader who is talking.
6a) Similarly, be creative with attributions. You don’t have to just say “said” and “asked” all the time. If your character grumbled a phrase, say that!
7) Don’t forget about actions. We don’t just stand still while we’re talking, so don’t expect your characters to, either. Make them pause once in a while, shift their weight to the opposite foot, roll their eyes, furrow their brow, etc. If they cough, say they cough. If they scratch their head, say that, too.
The biggest tip I can give for learning to write good dialogue is to look at other peoples’ work, other books, movies, television shows, plays, and real-life situations. The more you read and observe, the more you’ll be in-tune to how dialogue should “sound.”
Do you have any other suggestions? Questions? Let me know.
And don’t forget: practice, practice, practice!