I recently had a discussion with a fellow writer about dialogue, and decided to share the processes I use to improve authenticity within my work.
TIPS FOR IMPROVING DIALOGUE
- Give your imaginary friends a voice: I’ve talked about this before, but I often allow my characters free rein to have a discussion out of context, which basically means I let them loose to talk about whatever the hell they want. Those conversations, or pages of dialogue (almost like a script) rarely see the light of day. It’s the same as practising our skills by writing a scene or short story that is dialogue only. You can ignore all the normal rules; you don’t need any kind of structure. It’s like gathering a group of imaginary friends and allowing them the freedom to play. It can be fun, and is an excellent way to get to know your characters better.
- Follow the beat: There is always a flow to dialogue, especially if characters have a rapport. The to and fro of conversation can be extremely entertaining for the reader. In order to maintain that flow and avoid intruding on the process, I try to keep speech (or dialogue) tags to a minimum. I do this in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s by using silence, because a lack of words can have a powerful impact. Other times I rely on descriptive beats. I like them because they actively show us a character’s personality, and quickly demonstrate emotion or action. An example would what be – He bit down on the inside of his lip. “I’m perfectly serious.” Of course there must be balance in all things. There is a danger of becoming repetitive or distracting from the dialogue itself.
- Sound it out: Most writers read their work aloud because it helps them to pick up on errors they might otherwise miss; an interruption of the flow, going off point, an ambiguous or telling section of narrative, etc. Reading aloud dialogue is one of the best ways to determine if the dialogue is authentic. It’s like listening to a conversation. You can detect which parts sound unnatural or forced, and you’ll definitely identify whether the words used are a true reflection of your characters. It goes back to point 1. If you have been practising, reading the section aloud can give you an insight into what a character is thinking or feeling
- Feel the scene: Although I practice with long chunks of dialogue, I try to avoid senseless discussion in an actual scene. It’s important to ground the conversation, to create seamless transitions. When we’re having a discussion with friends, it’s natural for our minds to wonder, to consider the topic, and relate it to our lives. It’s also natural to allow distractions to interfere, such as being in a busy coffee shop. How a character responds lets us know what kind of person they are.
- Sharing the spotlight: Like any strong personality, some characters like to hog all the limelight and take over the scene. Unless you’re doing this for a reason, be it for humour or to show a character trait/flaw, try to avoid giving one character the floor for too long.
What about you? How do you work on your dialogue?
Thanks for stopping by.