Dos and Don'ts of Dialogue

Dialogue is unarguably my favorite part of writing. I like to think that it's also my strong suit. I know that it's subjective, though. I'm definitely not saying I'm an expert on dialogue or anything. I do wholeheartedly believe that dialogue can make or break a story. Maybe for some realistic and engaging dialogue is what keeps them hooked and reading - it's definitely the case for me.

Dialogue is difficult. And really good dialogue is death. When I think about the importance of dialogue, I like to put in perspective by pointing out movies and their scripts. A movie script is solely dialogue, with stage movements and scene breaks interspersed. For a screenplay writer to get their piece off the ground they have to be pretty damn good at writing dialogue because that's all there is.

So dialogue: it can make or break a story.

↳ Take the time to learn how to properly punctuate dialogue
↳ Read your dialogue aloud
↳ Use contractions
↳ Change up dialogue tags, but sparingly i.e. he said, he yelled, he argued etc
↳ Chunk the dialogue and lose the prose around it when the scene is heightening, it'll pick up the pace
↳ Think about the age/socio-economic/educational background of the person speaking
↳ Serve a purpose, whether it's character development or plot progression
↳ Keep it short
↳ Intersperse dialogue with actions i.e. He moved to the fridge to look for butter. "So we have how much time?"
↳ Keep in mind character traits - someone who's interests are in science will use that knowledge in reference to what they say
↳ Stay true to the era with slang and colloquial terms
↳ Let your characters have distinguished voices - some people speak straight to the point, others jumble their words, some people ask lots of questions, some people can't help but make blanket statements
↳ Use 'like', 'literally', 'oh my god' and other phrases most people use throughout their daily conversation (and incorrectly at that)(the definition of literally no longer means literally but figuratively)(which actually makes me lol because we used a word incorrectly so much that we had to redefine it to take place of the word we should actually be using when we say literally)

↳ Write out accents
↳ Use exclamations points without good reason
↳ Rely on adverbs i.e. he said happily, sadly, angrily etc
↳ Use big words, most people don't talk like they read the Oxford dictionary before bed
↳ Break character
↳ Info-dump in conversations
↳ Break up the dialogue unnaturally i.e. "If you aren't," he moved to the door, "going to leave, then I will."
↳ Write out sounds (it works, very sparingly, but not in clumps) i.e. "Ugh, ah, ooh, eeh, ahhh, ohhhh," he cried as he clutched his bleeding chest."
↳ Pack the scene with a bunch of people talking
↳ Or make it unclear who is speaking at any given point
↳ Layer someone else's dialogue on another's, if Bob is speaking start a new sentence when June replies
↳ Give your characters catch phrases because who really has catchphrases

When it comes down to it, your best bet is to think Can I imagine someone saying this in real life? and if you can't, go back and edit it. There really isn't just one way to writing dialogue, and to writing good dialogue. Sometimes it takes going back and re-writing a scene to elevate the dialogue.

Knowing your characters really, really helps with that. If you don't understand the way they think, what their personalities are like, its going to be extremely difficult to basically speak for them. And when you do speak for your character you want to make sure that you maintain their integrity from chapter 1 to chapter 20. Sure, characters change and develop but there are things you can imagine them saying and things they wouldn't in a million years. You want to be true to that.
May 31st, 2016 at 05:36am