“What do you mean we need to know how to write dialogue? Isn’t that simply people talking? It’s simple.”
But no, it isn’t always the simplest thing to write. There are things you need to consider as you write dialogue. Sometimes we need to pay closer attention to how we write dialogue so that it doesn’t come out sounding like all our characters are the same people or so that our characters don’t sound stilted. Here are five quick tips to try or to keep in mind as you write dialogue.
1. Always read your dialogue to yourself as you write it or after you write it. Why would you need to do that? You can hear it in your head as you write it, correct? Well, yes, but if you don’t read it aloud or even with someone else reading the other lines, you might not write the words as dialogue at all. You might simply be writing what you think sounds right. But can someone actually say those words? Speak them, read them and find out. I actually read my dialogue out loud as I write it.
2. Remember no two people talk exactly alike. You might have pet words that you personally use all the time. You might even put them into the mouth of your main character. But don’t put them in everyone’s mouth or all your characters will end up sounding alike. Too many times I have seen characters all taking alike, speaking in the author’s voice, not their own. Let your characters have their own pet words. Or their own way of speaking. A teenager won’t talk like an adult and a child often won’t talk like a teen. But don’t over exaggerate either. No one wants to read a book with “Excellent!” written on every page.
3. Listen to others around you speak to pick up cadences and get ideas for writing dialogue. I’ve heard from so many authors that they love to eavesdrop on others’ conversations just to get ideas for ways to write dialogue or to study different cadences. That can be very helpful next time you sit down to write a scene.
4. Remember different professions may speak in different ways. I remember going to meeting with educational leaders and becoming aware of much more correct and stilted language. I’d always worked in a quick moving profession where simple words worked best and we didn’t speak of cumulative scores or clientele safeguards or demonstrative demographics. Okay, I just put all those words together, but I wasn’t certain what I was listening to either. I just wanted the facts, straight and simple. But sometimes you might have an academic in a book who speaks that way.
5. Don’t overuse dialect. Yes, you want to get the point across that perhaps your heroine speaks with a Scottish accent or your detective is Hispanic and tosses in Spanish words every so often, but don’t overdo it to the point that the reader gets distracted or loses sight of the main story.
As you write dialogue remember you are speaking for your characters. Let’s make them sound like the individuals they are.