In fiction, dialogue can make or break your story. It might be the difference between getting The Call verses a rejection. Some people find it easy to write; others struggle at it. Here are some tips to help you create authentic sounding dialogue:
1. Listen to conversations
Listening to how people talk is one of the best lessons there is on creating authentic dialogue. What are they saying and how are they saying it? Pay attention to your friends and spouse. Do they use complete sentences and perfect grammar? Probably not.
Pay attention to context. A lawyer will speak differently when in court, defending his client, compared to when he’s talking to his wife in bed. At least I hope he is.
Another thing you’ll notice is that people tend to interrupt each other. Admit it. You do it too, right? And don’t forget, no conversation is perfect. If it were, wives wouldn’t complain that their husbands never listen, and ‘misunderstanding’ wouldn’t be a word in the dictionary.
2. Watch TV shows and movies
This is a great exercise for studying dialogue and dialect. You can even download movie and TV show scripts from the internet for free and study them.
Study how your favorite authors approach dialogue. Like in TV shows and movies, you’ll notice that the dialogue gets straight to the point and moves the plot forward. You don’t want to waste the reader’s time with mindless chatter that does nothing to advance the story. In real life, when you meet someone, you tend to go through the formalities of small talk first. Don’t make this fatal mistake in fiction. If it’s not important to the story or characterization, cut it.
4. Do a dialogue pass when editing
This by far is my favorite trick. Copy a scene from your manuscript, and strip it down to the dialogue. For example, here’s an excerpt from City of Bones by Cassandra Clare:
It was Alec who spoke first. “What’s this?” he demanded, looking from Clay to his companions, as if they might know what she was doing there.
“It’s a girl,” Jace said, recovering his composure. “Surely you’ve seen girls before, Alec. Your sister Isabelle is one.” He took a step closer to Clary, squinting as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. “A mundie girl,” he said half to himself. “And she can see us.”
“Of course I can see you,” Clary said. “I’m not blind, you know.”
Now strip it down:
“It’s a girl,”
“Surely you’ve seen girls before, Alec. Your sister Isabelle is one.”
“A mundie girl,”
“And she can see us.”
“Of course I can see you,”
“I’m not blind, you know.”
The next step is to read the dialogue OUT LOUD. This is the only way to tell if it flows and sounds authentic. And if you can’t tell who said what, then you need attack this issue so that each character sounds unique. This topic is a post in itself.
Another thing I’ve discovered by doing this is that sometimes dialogue begs to be expanded on. But when you try to do this in the draft you’re working on, it doesn’t seem to work. Once you’ve removed physical beats, dialogue tags, etc, you’ll find it much easy to write the missing dialogue.
Once you’ve finished editing your dialogue, bold the ones you’ve changed, deleted, or added, and place it back in the scene (or delete unnecessary ones). You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to work in the new and improved dialogue this way. Try it out and see for yourself.
Does anyone else have tricks for writing authentic sounding dialogue?
Stina Lindenblatt writes romantic suspense and young adults novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.