April 14, 2016

4 Guidelines for Writing Realistic Dialogue


Courtesy of Morguefile.com
When you write dialogue does it sound natural?  Look at this short exchange:

"Oh yes, please help me with this, George."
"Why of course, Anita.  I'll be more than happy to help you with any little thing you wish."

At first glance, you might think these statements look fine, but I want you to think about them while we explore how to create believable dialogue.

1.  People don't use names when they talk to each other.
Some of you hate me, now, but this is true.  Putting a character's name in dialogue may help the reader know who is or isn't talking, but it's not how people speak. It's ok to occasionally have someone use the name of the person they're speaking to, but keep it to a minimum.  If you don't believe me, listen in on a few conversations the next time you're out in public.  Can you learn the names of the people they're talking to?  Probably not.

2. Words like "oh" are rarely spoken in a sentence.
When is the last time you said anything along the lines of the first sentence in the  example?  We might say, "Oh," but odds are it stands alone in a sentence and might be the only word spoken.  Doesn't this sentence sound like some elderly, grandmother-type speaking to a young whippersnapper?  If you want to use it, pick one character and use this as one of their character traits.

3.  Manners are nice but typically used in specific situations.
We don't say please and thank you very much, especially if we're talking to someone we know well.  Characters can be polite if that's one of their traits, but the reader needs to see the difference between each character's dialogue, so be sure to assign the trait to a specific character. For the rest of the characters, think about when you say please or thank you.  Those are the circumstances where manners work in dialogue.

4.  People don't speak in full sentences.
Look at George's response.  What would someone really say in this situation?  Probably a short phrase:  "Sure thing," "No problem," "Of course."  If you spoke like George, people might think your pompous.  You can use formal conversation to create humor. Maybe in the context of the scene, George and Anita are being silly.  Then, he might speak in a grandiose way.

Dialogue gives readers a glimpse into the characters' personality as well as moving the story forward. Nothing will take a reader out of a story faster than unrealistic dialogue.  If you're not sure how to write dialogue, go sit in a public place and eavesdrop.  Take notes.  (Just don't let anyone see you doing it. Writers already are a bit odd, let's not add to the impression.)

For some simple grammatical dialogue tips, check out last week's post.

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