Dialogue

Question: I have real trouble creating dialogue between characters, it never seems realistic enough or sincere to me. Are there any tips you can give me on how to write dialogue for my characters?


Answer: Writing good dialogue is a tough assignment, because you must do several things simultaneously. On the one hand, you want dialogue to be realistic and an appropriate expression of the character who's saying it. At the same time, dialogue that reflected real speech accurately would be full of trivial and irrelevant verbiage. Dialogue in stories must be streamlined – including what is needed to reveal the characters, advance the relationships and the plot, and nothing else.

Many people find it helpful to listen closely to other people's conversations. Eavesdrop in restaurants or other public places and really pay close attention. Transcribe people's actual words if you can, without being caught. Take note how people of different ages, social classes, genders, backgrounds, etc. actually talk. See what you can deduce about the relationship between two strangers just from things they say to each other.

At the same time, consider reading some of the great contemporary playscripts and screenplays to learn the differences between dialogue and real speech. Plays are, after all, mostly dialogue. Practice reading them out loud. Pay attention to the characterization and how the conflicts and plotlines play out. Notice how much can be said with very few words. If you see a great scene in a film or television show, replay it a few times. Try copying out the dialogue to get a sense of its structure.

Obviously, that's a long-term assignment. In the short term, since you have a sense that some of the dialogue you have written doesn't sound sincere or realistic, here are a few things you might try...

* Think of a person like your character, either someone you
know or a character in a film, and imagine how they would say what your character needs to say. (Ultimately, you want to be able to imagine your characters so clearly that you can hear how they speak in your head.)

* If you're good at acting, say the dialogue out loud, imagining you were the character and improvising until you find the right words to say what you want.

* Alternatively, if you have a friend in real life similar to your character, ask them use their own words to say what you want your character to say.

* If you have friends who do any acting, see if they will improvise some dialogue for you.

* If you're writing historical fiction, you really have your work cut out for you. You'll need to immerse yourself in historical documents and literature to learn the vocabulary and speech patterns of that age, and then soften them a little, so your dialogue doesn't sound too archaic for a modern readership.

* Don't worry about correct grammar when you write dialogue. People often break the rules in real speech. But don't be so colloquial that the dialogue becomes impossible to read.

* It's usually better to convey action with narration rather than dialogue.

* Don't have characters say too much information at once. A little at a time is best.

* Cut out any unnecessary dialogue. There's no need to have everyone say “Hello” and “Good morning” to each other. Just cut to the part where they say the important stuff.

* Remember too that dialogue in a story must have a point. It must illustrate the next step in character growth or plot. Your characters will have different points of view, different goals and intentions, different approaches to handling situations. And these may be revealed by what they say to each other.

Comments for Dialogue

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Aug 15, 2011
good movies can help too
by: S_T_HARPER

Reading good books in your genre is aways the best way to absorb a skill like writing dialogue. But if you know of some good movies in the category you're writing in, they can be quick lessons if you re-watch and pay close attention. I don't know what you are writing, but say it's a romantic comedy... watch something like "Sleepless in Seattle," and notice how the dialogue entertains while ALWAYS forwarding important elements of the story and characters. If the movie is is really good, there are no wasted words - everything has a purpose. Good luck!

Jan 31, 2012
Act it aloud
by: Anonymous

Try reading dialgue aloud mimicking how the character has to say it eg angry, whispered etc. Look for words that are naturally emphasised, where you take a breath because if your punctuation doesn't match up it can sound false even when the words are great. You don't have to have a partner, just be in your characters heads

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