I suck at writing dialogue. In fact, I’m so bad at it, I do what I can when I write to avoid it, at all costs.
But, having hit chapter three of my novel, it’s something I must tackle and correct, or there’s going to be a lot of editing to be done (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — Read this).
Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing,
Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction. If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?
The key to good character development is dialogue. It’s the language within the language, and it gives your work the moxie it needs to be heard.
Here are a few tools of the trade to better your dialogue writing:
1. Act it out
People say that to truly understand your work, you need to read it aloud to yourself to make sure it makes sense first. This is very much the case for dialogue.
If you’re writing dialogue a lot, you’re no longer just a writer, you’re an actor too. You need to adopt these characters with everything you have to ensure that not only does what they’re saying make sense, but also ‘how’ they sound saying it, too.
2. Miss out the obvious statements
This was the biggest lesson I learned.
Writing dialogue isn’t so much about giving everything away on paper as it is about letting people connect the dots. Not everything needs to be said all the time. Often, the less dialogue you use the better (the less words you use, the better, too — see here).
People have brains, let them use them to make their own judgements.
3. Ground your dialogue in the physical world
A page of dialogue is useless. You need to create a scene for the reader to comprehend, which means mixing descriptive language in with your speech.
People who talk perform actions too. Maybe they motion with their hand or reach for a cup of coffee, or a waiter drops a tray of glasses. True reader engagement comes from keeping the story moving and acting out the scene as you write.
There are many other ways to help bring dialogue out of your fiction. In fact, ProWritingAid wrote this amazing piece on creating good dialogue for The Writing Cooperative back in April. I thoroughly recommend it. Check it out here.