Today’s topic is dialogue! Dialogue is actually one of my most favorite things to write and I like to think I do it fairly well. That’s not to say I don’t struggle with it sometimes. I think the key to doing dialogue well is to understand the many things that it can be used for in your work. Dialogue is definitely a tool that can help you set pace in your story, first of all. If it’s a fast paced or intense scene, using more dialogue rather than description will help set the hurried tone. Another great way to use dialogue is to provide information or backstory. Rather than have your narrator explain everything, have your characters discuss the information you feel is integral to your story’s plot. Dialogue can also be used to describe setting. Rather than have the narrator describe the setting, break that up with the characters making mentions of it.
When writing dialogue for your character, one important thing to keep in mind is that it must suit your character. This kind of goes along with characterization. Dialogue can either develop your character or make him inconsistent. When I say this, I mean that you want your dialogue to be something that whatever particular character you’re writing would say. Let’s say you’re writing a scene where one of the characters is a southern cowboy, well known for their manners. This particular character might use the word “ma’am” a bit when speaking to the ladies.
In regards to suiting up your character with their dialogue, please, please, PLEASE realize that people don’t speak without contractions. For that matter, they don’t always use proper grammar when they’re speaking. Unless your character is an OCD English professor, seriously try to avoid making your characters sound like they’re reading a term paper.
Finally, while dialogue can really add to your story, try not to over do it. First, cut the small talk. If there is a need for the characters to have a moment or two of small talk, but it’s not integral to your scene or the plot, just sum it up in the narrative, then jump into the dialogue. Also, don’t go crazy with the dialogue tags, especially if you’re writing an intense or fast paced scene. It will totally defeat the purpose. If there are only two characters in your scene, it should be fairly easy for the reader to keep them straight with just a reminder dialogue tag here and there throughout the conversation or sentence or two of narrative after every few lines.
One of my favorite ways to get ideas for dialogue is to watch television. I mean think about it. Before it hits the screen, the dialogue the characters are exchanging was first written down. It actually helps to imagine the characters acting out the scene in your mind. One of my favorite shows for brilliantly written dialogue is The West Wing. I can honestly say that there isn’t a single word of dialogue spoken that is unnecessary. Another way to get an idea for conversations and dialogue are the people around you. Subtly eavesdrop on conversations at the mall or the restaurant. Who knows? You might hear a conversation that sparks a plot bunny to take your work in a direction you hadn’t intended, and I think we all know that sometimes those little epiphanies can be Godsends.