Dialogue can be a difficult aspect of storytelling. Because we are not usually consciously aware of the natural flow of conversation, our written dialogue can sometimes sound stilted, and false. Here are some things to consider when writing dialogue:
#1. Character: Because each one of your characters has a different personality, the way they speak, should be unique to each separate character. How your characters speak is influenced by a variety of factors including education, socio-economic background, geographical location, to name but a few. To that end, I find character maps, (which I discussed in greater detail here), to be very helpful. By fully understanding where a character comes from, and what factors influence that character, you can have a better understanding of when they would speak, why they would speak, and how they would speak. This deep understanding of a character’s voice will make your dialogue seem more realistic, and character driven.
#2. Voice: Each character will have a different voice. I’m not just talking timbre here; cadence, rhythm, and inflection are all nuances of speech patterns that need to be carefully considered when writing dialogue. One of the best ways I’ve found to write realistic dialogue is to actually speak the dialogue I’ve written, out loud. I will often use a mirror to see myself speaking the dialogue I’ve written. I try to do this when I’m home alone, for obvious reasons…
While speaking to yourself in a mirror may seem embarrassing, reciting your dialogue out loud can help you to find aspects of your writing that are unrealistic, untrue to the character, and frankly, a little cheesy, that you might not have noticed otherwise.
#3. Descriptors: I’ve found that many writers try to add unnecessary adjectives to the end of dialogue. It is entirely unnecessary to add an adjective to the end of every sentence of dialogue. The addition of superfluous descriptors makes the dialogue seem tedious, and it greatly slows down the flow of the conversation. Dialogue descriptors are only really necessary to develop mood. Once a mood has been established, adjectives to describe the dialogue are irrelevant, unless the mood shifts.
Speaking dialogue out loud will also help in this regard. Another technique that might be helpful is to go through your dialogue, and circle all the instances where you’ve described speech with an adjective. I like to do this with a brightly coloured pen. If I find I have an outrageously coloured page, then I know I have some changes to make!
What techniques do you use to develop good dialogue?
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