One of my personal favorite things about writing is coming up with interesting and compelling dialogue. I think I’m somewhat good at it, which has come from years of observing people and being obsessed with film. I love screenwriting, so dialogue is of the utmost importance. My favorite films have also been those of Quentin Tarantino, who is arguably the master of onscreen dialogue.
Some people are better at this than others. Stephen King has talked about how poorly even the most famous of writers have been at creating realistic dialogue. He brings up H.P. Lovecraft, for example, who has written beautiful sci-fi stories, but struggled with his characters’ dialogue. If you read any of his writing, you’d notice how much he avoided it.
But how can you write effective dialogue?
-Observe how normal people talk. We know that things are exaggerated in writing and for the most part people aren’t in the same situations as the ones you place your characters in. It’s still helpful to listen to other people. Don’t have a 12 year talk like a 40 year old. Dialogue will come more naturally if you keep it as general as possible.
-Remove all the dull parts of dialogue. Overusing the word ‘well’ will kill the realism. Don’t have every piece of dialogue end with the character’s name. For example: “Hmm. Well, Amy, you don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll try to do my best, Amy.” Obviously, you can see how dull and stupid this is (hopefully no one really writes that terribly). The sentence can easily be changed to: “You don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll try to do my best.” Doesn’t it sound better? Keep it simple.
-Don’t go crazy with your dialogue tags. If it’s a conversation between two people, most of the time the reader can understand who’s taking. Example:
“Hi,” Amy said.
“Hi,” Peter replied.
“How are you?” Amy asked.
“I’m fine. How are you?” Peter asked.
Besides this being completely dull, I’m sure you can kind of see what I mean. You don’t need to put who said it after every single piece of dialogue.
-Don’t go crazy with your exclamation points! Not everything is being screamed or shouted! People will understand your tone even if you don’t use the exclamation point! Using the he or she shouted dialogue tag is usually enough. Get what I’m saying?!
-Cut back on long winded speeches used for info dumping. Whenever a character makes a one or two page long speech without any cuts for action, I usually get bored or skip parts of it. Have other characters ask (realistic) questions or explain as the story goes along. Don’t bore me to death or make my eyes burn.
-Dialogue must always serve a purpose. It must either provide information about the plot or characters or move the story forward. Having a pointless conversation go back and forth for the sake of filling the pages isn’t a good idea. No one will understand why you included it in the first place.
Usually, if you follow these rules you’ll end up with some good dialogue. Always make sure you read a lot because that is the best way to learn. Try and remember what sticks out and what you love most about the dialogue. That will help you shape your own writing and create something memorable. Let your characters speak for themselves!