Talking. It’s something that most characters do (though Harpo Marx sure got along just fine without it), but it’s something that some authors really struggle with. How does one write real and convincing dialogue? Do you just add a boatload of swearing? Do you write out every accent phonetically? Or do you, uh, put in all the, uh… oh, what are they called?... all the idiot syllables and, uh, other assorted nonsense we add to our everyday speech?
No, you don’t have to do any of that (in fact, you’re way better off if you don’t!)
There are two big things to keep in mind when working on your dialogue-writing skills, and they’re pretty simple, too.
First off, listen. Just listen to every conversation you have, listen to every conversation in movies, television, the radio. Listen to how people talk in all settings. Pay attention to how people of different ages and backgrounds speak. (But never give in to stereotypes! That is never, ever a good thing!)
Don’t just listen to the words. Also pay attention to the rhythm. How do people talk when things are urgent? How do people talk when they’re head-over-heels in love with each other? When they’re sad? Angry? There’s a different rhythm to every conversation, and that rhythm is just as important as what is being said.
Think of it this way: two people exchanging witty insults (think Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing) will have a quick pace to their conversation. We dart back and forth quickly and perhaps erratically from character to character. On the other hand, two people who are having a serious, in-depth discussion will have a steadier, slower rhythm as they explain themselves.
Step two is to learn how to prune. Never stop listening to conversations, but once you really begin to get a grasp on the words and rhythms, think of what needs to be cut out. Ask yourself this: Does it progress the plot or develop backstory? Does it develop the character? No? Then it can probably be cut.
Human beings drop a lot of idiot syllables and unnecessary additions into their speaking. This can be cut. Swearing is to be used sparingly and only if they character would actually use it. There’s no reason to have every single greeting, farewell and formality in conversations. These are just a few of the things you can cut and still have real and believable dialogue.
So, the moral of the story? Pay attention! Listen to how we talk and then learn to tell what we say is complete fluff. Keep your ears at attention, and you’ll be writing stellar dialogue in no time.
Guest post by Jennifer Rainey. Jennifer Rainey was raised by wolves who later sold her to gypsies. She then joined the circus at the age of ten. There, she was the flower girl in the famed Bearded Bride of Beverly Hills show until the act was discontinued (it was discovered that the bearded lady was actually a man). From there, she wandered around the country selling novelty trucker hats with vaguely amusing sayings printed on front. Somehow, she made enough money to go to The Ohio State University for a major in English.
Jennifer will provide two $20 Amazon GCs and five copies of Thoroughly Modern Monsters, her short story collection to randomly drawn commenters during the tour. The grand prize to one randomly drawn commenter will be a $25 Amazon Gift card, a copy of These Hellish Happenings (her first novel) and a copy of Thoroughly Modern Monsters so I e
ncourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/07/virtual-book-tour-bedlams-eye-by.html