I’m told I write great dialogues.
It’s true. I do.
People love my characters’ conversations.
(That wasn’t always the case. I used to have baskets full of dialog tags – even flowery ones. I was told those would make my editor cry, so I tried hard to stop – but it was a hard habit to break.)
It’s easy to write good dialogues, but it takes some practice.
Here is what you need to know to write GREAT dialogues.
TIP #1: Decide what message the dialogue is supposed to convey.
Mary wants to tell her husband she’s pregnant. Joe bought a lottery ticket for Fred – and it won. We’re out of pickles. Whatever the message is, decide that first.
TIP#2: HOW do people converse? Write that. Fast.
I write down what two people would say, and I write it as fast as I can. It’s half jibberish, too, because I’m a lousy typist.
In real life, people cut each other off, or change topics in midstream. That can be helpful, making the characters more realistic – or it can be a disaster, making the author seem like a lunatic.
Worry not. Locking you up as a crazy is much harder than most people think.
There are examples below, but think about WHY the conversation is interesting, or how it can be MORE interesting.
Boring, readers can get from their spouses. They want excitement and drama. Give it to them.
TIP #3: Adding tension adds to, well, everything.
One character might hem and haw. The other might be angry. Use the schizophrenia within you and be two minds, each with their own goal in the conversation. Joe wants to keep the lottery winnings; Fred wants to know if he won. Conflict! Mary’s husband asks for a divorce the day she gets the news about being preggers. Or he’s shipping off to a new promotion and won’t be home much for the next 12 months. Doesn’t matter, any tension adds to the dialogue.
TIP #4: Beat ’em up.
Since you wrote as fast as you can to get the conversation parts down, go back and add in the “beats” – the little actions and other stuff that people do during conversations. Because if I try to do it all at the same time, I usually miss something.
Like the timing or pace of a conversation, which is important. That takes practice, and most of you won’t have that on day 1.
People don’t just sit and talk. They react physically to what they hear. They move while they talk, communicating their thoughts through body language. Readers understand that. Use it.
What does a stressed out lady do when she’s sitting at a table? Tug at her earring? Twist up a napkin? Stuff like that makes for good beats.
Without that, your conversation will be… lacking. Readers understand that, too.
A great technique to create realistic dialog is to make a point and then answer the way people do when they’re arguing.
DIALOGUE ONE – written fast, NO BEATS
“What? No, it isn’t!”
“How would you know?”
“I, well, I wouldn’t. But it sounds wrong.”
“There’s some logic at work. Thanks, Hemingway.”
Oh, and add some sarcasm. (That’s just fun.)
Write things the way YOU argue – and do it quickly. Go back and add in the commas and other punctuation afterwards, and make sure the conversation is slightly combative.
Write like that witty person you always wished you could be in an argument. You can – in your writing.
TIP#5: People tease and contradict.
Look at your text messages between you and your friends. Are they all facts or is it fun? Does your Facebook chat contain witty banter?
No? Time to make some new friends!
If yes, then use that as a guide.
Get it down first, then finesse it, soften it, whatever.
And don’t worry about grammar. Why? Because very few people speak with proper grammar.
Sorry, grammar Nazi friends. If necessary, tweak it later.
Now, the conversation above was like 4 lines long, then I went back and added an insult. Cos people do that, even if they like each other. Then I added the last two lines because it can be amusing to see one person start to go off the rails and the other person not bother to reel them back in. It’s fun for me.
But that’s a template you can use!
Emulate good ideas while you develop on your own. (Notice I said emulate, not plagiarize.)
DIALOGUE TWO – beats added
“What?” Bill threw his hat down. “No, it isn’t!”
Ted glared at him. “How would you know?”
“I, well, I wouldn’t. But it sounds wrong.”
“There’s some logic at work. Thanks, Hemingway.” He turned and started off.
Ted nodded, not looking back. “Exactly.”
You get the idea.
You may mess up your dialogues until you develop an eye/ear for what works, which requires being a bit of an actor…
Which is a lot of work, actually.
But hey, who said it would be easy? Oh, I did.
Good dialogues do one more thing: they make your characters memorable – which makes your story memorable.
Which makes YOU memorable!
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!