Happy Wednesday everyone!
Thanks for stopping in. This week I’ll be talking about one of my favorite parts of writing. Dialogue! I know… I’m a freak, right? No, but seriously, it’s my favorite.
Good dialogue can be an excellent way to show your character’s personality, convey information, add humor and many other things. But bad dialogue can be a total disaster and make your reader want to gouge their eyes out and we don’t want that. So, I’m here to help you make your dialogue the best it can be. These are not the only things to consider when creating dialogue but these are the tips I found most useful.
1.) Act it out.
I’m sure I’ve gotten my fair share of strange looks when I’m arguing with myself in my car, but you know what, it works. I like it because I can try out different ways of conveying the same message without having to write and rewrite.
Hearing the words out loud make phrases that aren’t natural stick out. And that is key. You want your dialogue to sound as natural as possible.
2.) Let it flow.
Once you have acted it out and got the basics of what you want to say figured out, pop the cork and let it flow. Once you start, don’t stop. I found that sometimes it’s easier to just write the dialogue and go back later to add action and tags as needed. During this phase, your goal is to get your script laid out, so don’t stop. You can go back and make it shine like a diamond later.
3.) Listen to people talk.
So, I realize this sounds a little creepy, but I love eavesdropping. It is the best way to get ideas for dialect and speech patterns. Every person speaks differently and so should your characters. If everyone sounds the same, that’s boring, and it makes it harder to distinguish who’s talking.
Here’s a scene from my current WIP:
After about half an hour Mrs. Silvano emerged from the office with a stack of papers and approached the front desk. “Mr. Lucas said I could leave some of these fliers up here.” She called from halfway across the lobby. “We’re having a blood drive next weekend, and we’d like to get the word out. Hopefully, we’ll see you there?”
“I’ll be there.” Blue ink noted the drive on my calendar already. I have blood type “AB-” which only shows up in about one percent of people. That fact alone makes me feel obligated to try to make it to as many as possible. “If you need more volunteers, I’ve helped with registration many times.”
“Actually, I am a little short. What was your name again darling?” She set the fliers on the counter and began rustling for something in her oversized Chanel bag.
She pulled out a small wire-bound notebook and a purple pen and scribbled something on a page. “Splendid. Plan on being there at nine.”
“Okay.” I smiled, “I’ll hang some fliers up at school for you too.”
“You’re a doll. Thanks so much.”
Do you notice how Mrs. Silvano and Charley speak differently?
Mrs. Silvano tends to use quite a few affectionate names (“Darling,” happens to be her favorite) and words like “Splendid” and “Superb” can be found in her daily speech. Charley would probably never use those words. You don’t have to make them sound drastically different, something as simple as that can give your characters their voice.
On a slightly different note, people don’t usually sound like this:
“Hello, Jane. How are you?”
“I am good Tom. How are you?”
“I’m doing well.”
Blah! STOP. That is so boring. Unless you are noting some type of inflection in their voice, don’t bother. Try something like this:
“Jane, it’s nice to see you.”
“Oh, hi Tom.” Jane peered down at her drink and swirled her straw making the ice clink against the glass.
“I’m sorry to hear about Steve. Are you alright?”
Now, I don’t know what happened to Steve, but this skips all of the pleasantry boring stuff and gets right to the point in the same three lines of dialogue.
So, Next time you are out grocery shopping, out to dinner or on a date at your local vampire bar 😉 take a listen to someone around you. You might find some inspiration.
4.) Avoid the Infodump/large blocks of text.
This is where you back your information truck up and dump it all over the page. I hate to tell you, but those usually get skipped. They are boring so don’t use your poor character as a way to convey a ton of information all at once. Limit the amount of information to what is necessary at the time.
If I only need to know that your fairies magic is tied to a lightwell and I don’t need the whole history and interworkings of the magic right at this moment, then sprinkle that fairy dust throughout.
This section also includes letting a character speak for too long. Unless, they are Mr. Speech who never lets anyone else talk, then break that up. You can do so in a few ways:
- Break it up with action.
- Change the speaker. If Joe is telling part of the story, let Alice chime in to tell another piece.
- Have someone interrupt or ask a question.
It’s not too difficult, just break up large chunks of text but it makes it so much easier for your reader.
5.) Limit the use of dialogue tags.
Using dialogue tags can be very helpful when trying to address who is speaking quickly, but they can also pull your reader from the story. I personally prefer to use an action if possible, or nothing at all if it is a back in forth between two characters.
For example, I am currently reading a book, and the author uses “said” after every single line of dialogue. This is not necessarily bad, I mean she is a best-selling author, but man is it distracting. I prefer to limit my use of tags but if you absolutely must add a tag stick to “said, asked or replied.” If you’re going to use dialogue tags, keep it simple. I know your second grade English teacher is cringing.
“You look stunning! I can’t believe you’re my date,” effused Alex.
For one, it’s kind of redundant because you should be able to tell from the dialogue that Alex is excited. And two, how many of you had to look up the word “effused”? You don’t want your reader to have to get out a dictionary consistently. Keep it simple or don’t use them at all.
Alex bounced off the recliner he’d been waiting in as Mary entered the room wearing a sequenced blue dress. His eyes traveled from her bouncy brown curls to her silver stilettos, “Wow Mary… You look stunning.” He released the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “I can’t believe you’re my date!”
Doesn’t that give you more of a picture of what’s happening?
6.) Don’t say things your characters should already know.
In Spark, Charley finds her parents murdered when she was eight. She is diagnosed with a delusional disorder which her sister already knows about when the story takes place fifteen years later. So, it would be weird if she sat there explaining her disorder to Alma.
Obviously, this is an extreme example, but I think it conveys the point. In most cases, you can explain these types of situations through narration, and it’s best to keep them out of the dialogue unless explaining to a new person.
I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any other questions about dialogue feel free to leave a comment below or if you like you can add a tip you found helpful, I would love to hear it.
As always don’t forget to follow my page on the way out to keep up on the progress of my novel and any writing tips I find along the way. If you have any other questions feel free to reach out to me on my contact page or tweet me @shauna_philp, I would love to hear from you.