Good dialogue is important if you have a story that has any in it. Now not every story has to have it. I’ve read many great ones over the year with not one ounce of dialogue in them, but if you do have some, the quality has to be good or you have lost readers for good. The dialogue has to be real.
Dialogue has to help the reader see into the characters and the story.
It Has to Be Real
Dialogue has to be real sounding. I should read it and hear it in my head in a way that sounds like it really happened. A typical five year old should not sound like a Harvard graduate. A man rarely sounds like a Valley Girl. If he needs to, then the character should be developed to support it.
How do you make dialogue real especially if you aren’t familiar with the type of character speaking? You listen to other people’s conversations.
Yes, I know you were taught to never eavesdrop, but as a writer it can be an exception. It can be a valuable tool if you are only using it for your writing. Let me give you a good example.
I was starting a YA story. I’m not completely ignorant of teens. I was one myself though not quite a typical one, but…. Even if you have teens, that doesn’t mean you completely understand them or their language. Every year it seems they have some new slang or such they use basically creating a new language every year. What do I do? I eavesdrop.
Listen to the teens in the back seat talking about their day, who likes who, who did what, and who dared to do that. Pay attention to the subject matter, how they word it, and phrases they use as well as their body language and tone of voice.
Study other people and get a better sense of good dialogue. Let real people be your models for the characters in your stories.
Dialogue Reflects Character
Keep in mind that when a character speaks, their soul is revealed. Think about how people at your work speak. Let me give you an example from my own workplaces.
Person A says, “You didn’t send me the paperwork again.”
Without any description of her voice, how do you take these words? What kind of person do you think she is? What if I added this…
Person A said in a loud voice, “You didn’t send me the paperwork again.”
As a reader, you probably noted the ‘again’ which means she is more than likely frustrated. From her loud voice, you might think she is obnoxious. Add more dialogue and the reader will see that she is a royal pain in the rear end that likes to show how perfect she is and how nobody else can do anything right. See what else she has to say…
“We need to retrain you on how to do your job right.”
What did you pull from that? Probably see the obnoxious side of her. Let dialogue reveal the character.
If a character is caring, their words will reflect it. They’ll ask people how they are doing and inquire about previous health and family concerns. They will focus on issues the other person had, and they also focus on the positive side of things.
A character who is selfish should have dialogue that reflects that. Their words will be all about them. They will turn conversations back to themselves.
Pull From Your Own Life
How did your husband respond when you told him you wrecked the car? What did he say, and how did he say it? Use that to create a similar scene in your stories. What better resource than real life and real people?
There are times when you can create the scene in your own life and watch the reactions of those around you. Maybe your character walks into a room and gets scared. Pull a practical joke on someone and watch their reaction. (Please make sure it isn’t a cruel joke.)
I love to people watch. Everywhere you go there are an assortment of people who can help you create good dialogue in your stories. Listen to how they communicate.
The guy on his cell phone in line at the grocery store can give you material. The woman admonishing her child, the teenager trying to get permission to use the car, the child who wants that stuffed toy can all give you great dialogue for your story. They can give you words, body language, and tone.
Remember that dialogue is more than words. It is everything that surrounds those words. If you were watchign the character say it on the big screen, the body language and tone of the voice would carry much of the words with them.
How about at church? Watch people’s reactions to the sermon, the music, the people around them. At the mall, you can find a wide variety of characters to help you with your dilaogue. Keep your eyes open. A writer’s job is never done.