We’ve all seen it at one time or another. The writing could be amazing, great descriptions, good plot, but then the characters start to talk….
And they are either wooden or awkward or they all sound alike. I believe even writers with a talent for dialogue would do well to go back and look at what their character say now and then. The problem with bad dialogue is that is can take your reader out of the story very quickly. I have few tricks I’ve developed over the years to help my dialogue sound and read better.
If you’re worried about wooden dialogue, stop, and read the words out loud. Do the voices if you need to and change your tone, but read it out loud and see how the dialogue flows when spoken. It’s a simple solution for a complex problem. You’ll find as you speak the words, you will be able to tell if they dialogue is perhaps a little bit off.
Listen to the conversations around you and try to figure out how they flow. Conversations tend to have rules, even if they are informal. Listen to the back and forth of verbal turn taking, you could also watch the body language of people as they interact, but that’s more description than dialogue. This could also help you figure out characters. Do you have a friend that constantly talks over everyone? Do you have a friend that seems to speak in as few words as they possibly can? My husband is taciturn, and tends to only speak in groups when spoken to. If the dialogue is true to character, it will be more likely to be good dialogue.
Try to make the voices distinct. As I mentioned before, different people speak in different ways. If I were a character in a book, it might be my habit of sayings things like “Ugh, no.” or “Totes my goats” that might set me apart. I don’t say them all the time, but they pepper my speech along with similar phrases. My husband on the other hand, would be more likely to speak in short phrases with the occasional bad pun. Each of your characters should have a slightly distinct quality to the way they speak. Watching real people can help you get a grasp of some of the more subtle nuances in the language patterns people use.
Read books with good dialogue. Some of my personal favorites are books from Jim Butcher. He makes his characters very distinct and his conversations, especially in the Dresden Files series, have really excellent flow.
Do you have any tips for better dialogue? Please feel free to share them in the comments! I’m always looking for other ways to improve.
Also, three days and counting until NaNoWriMo? Are you ready? I’m not. But I’ll get there!