LAST WEEK we went through some examples of amazing dialogues,
and practice makes perfect, so today we’re doing more.
The more you do this, the better your dialogues will be, and I sense there may be more than one dialogue scene in your story, so let’s work through this with an ad libbed example.
If you write weak dialogue, it’s a sign that your overall writing is weak and that your story isn’t gonna hold the reader’s interest.
That’s bad. So… don’t do that.
Examples one and two were last week, remember? Pay attention.
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.
That’s what works for me.
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 duringconversations. 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.
How do you practice? Think of a little scene and roll it out, like I did above. Do a few from your story from memory. Compare them to what you wrote.
Do your dialogue correctly and no one notices.
Do it wrong and it sinks your story.
Do it amazing and it elevates your story, especially among other writers because they can’t do it as good as you.
And WHY have a witty, sarcastic person in there?
Because ordinary people are dull to read about. Reading is an escape, so make it a good one. Larger than life but believable. A roller coaster ride. Fun.
It’s more work but the payoff is bigger – and well worth it as you build your writerly muscles.