Ah, dialogue. It can be a powerful asset to your story, but can also be difficult to do well. Dialogue has many uses. It can make characters seem real, advance the plot, hint at action about to unfold, and/or show the relationship between characters. However, there are some key points to note when writing dialogue that will really help you write it well. I use a ton of dialogue in my novels, so I've rounded up three tips that will help you master the art of well-written dialogue.
-Keep your dialogue tags simple: A lot of authors, myself included, like to shake things up from time to time. Saying Jill said, or Bobby said all the time bores us and we want to keep it interesting. So we start using dialogue tags like Jill asked, Bobby responded, Jill complained, Bobby whined, etc. And we need to stop. It's unnecessary. Just using the dialogue tag said works just fine. In fact, we can eliminate dialogue tags all together in some instances by using action to convey the point. For example:
"Fine!" Bobby turned away and stomped off down the hallway in disgust.
"Sure." I turn away and squeeze my eyes tightly before the tears can fall.
See! We can use body language to show how our characters are feeling instead of using dialogue tags that may be unnecessary or redundant. For more information on show vs tell, check out this guest blog post I wrote.
-Get to know your characters well: Your characters should be real people to you. Why? Because just like real people don't all sound like mindless robots, your characters shouldn't either. Give your characters distinct voices that reflect their life experiences and personalities. Is your character formal or unpolished? Eloquent or laid back? Does your character use perfect grammar or pepper their words with slang? Do they use metaphors? Run their words together? Say um a lot? Have a favorite word or expression that they use all the time? Also, remember that we speak differently depending on who we're speaking to. You wouldn't speak to your best friend the same way you would speak to a parent, or a teacher, or a stranger. It's the same with your characters. One last tip: Don't make your characters perfect. Just like in real life, we don't always know what to say all the time. It's okay to give your characters time to think every now and then or have them be unsure of what to say. For example:
"I think I want a divorce."
Jill's eyes shot up in surprise. "A div-" She brought her mug to her lips as if she could swallow down the distasteful word with a sip of tea. Had they really drifted this far apart?
Would you really know what to say in that situation? Chances are your characters probably won't either. Have them take a drink, hit a wall, or something similar, instead of being quick to respond.
-Make sure your dialogue has a purpose: Your dialogue shouldn't be meaningless or boring. No one wants to read half a page where your characters exchange pleasantries or discuss the weather. Instead, make sure the dialogue is advancing the plot or revealing something important about your characters. Ask yourself: What important information am I revealing? Would this scene or chapter make sense if I didn't include this conversation? What does this snippet of dialogue reveal about my character? How does this conversation advance the plot? Finally, make sure your dialogue fits your character's age, the setting, and the time period. You want your dialogue to be authentic and believable and readers will know if you haven't done your research.
*One more tip: Don't constantly have your characters name drop. For instance:
"Hey, Bobby. How are you?"
"Hey, Jill. I'm good. How are you?"
"I'm not so good Bobby."
"What's wrong Jill?"
"I don't know Bobby. I just don't feel right."
See how boring that was! Excessively using your character's names will do nothing but break up tension and bore readers. However, if you get to know your characters well, and use dialogue that is consistent with their personality, you may not even need to use names to convey to the reader who's speaking. And that, my dear writers, will make you a dialogue pro!
I hope these tips were helpful in helping you write realistic, yet powerful dialogue. If you have any additional tips, tricks, or questions, please leave them down below. Also, for more on dialogue, check out this article I wrote for a guest blog on mastering deep POV.