Dialogue. It is a necessary evil if you have characters. They must communicate, after all. Someone has to talk. It is also some of the most challenging writing you’ll do.
Why? Because you need to know your characters enough to speak for them. As them. Use their vocabularies, not yours. Reflect their histories and emotions. Oh, and don’t make them sound stilted unless that is how your character speaks.
Unlike everyday speech that we engage in everyday, you must also focus and compress your written dialogue so it is interesting. Let’s face it; we have a million conversations a day with family, friends, and coworkers that would put anyone to sleep if they read it. In a book, you need to keep that kind of dialogue to a minimum.
So, how can you make your dialogue more effective?
One way to make your dialogue sound more realistic is to use contractions. When most people speak, they don’t say, “I would not do that if I were you.” They say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” It will also make it sound more natural if you use sentence fragments in places. When we speak, we don’t tend to think of proper sentence structure. Did I remember to put in all the adverbs I wanted to describe the topic I was just talking about with Karen? No, that just doesn’t happen. Take a common topic in our household, tea.
“Want some tea?” Wendy asked.
Neither of these sentences are built in the proper structure, but they reflect how people talk. You can get away with a lot more of this when writing dialogue because it sounds more natural.
You can also help make your dialogue more natural by stringing sentences together using commas. We don’t often stop completely after each thought when we speak; we leap from one to another.
“Yes, I want some eggs, make sure they are sunnyside up, thanks.”
Never opt for the more complicated word unless your character thinks using big words is impressive to someone. Fancy words can make the dialogue sound stilted, unrealistic, and if they are truly big and obscure, make your reader stumble. Try using ‘obligatory’ in a sentence without sounding awkward and unrealistic. Most people would use ‘required’ or even ‘mandatory’ instead when they speak. Courtroom dramas may be a small exception to this when a character is a lawyer speaking during a trial or if you have medical personnel talking about a case amongst themselves. In these cases, you may need to figure out a way for the reader to understand the terminology.
John and Toni Rakestraw are the owners of Rakestraw Book Design. Toni is the editor; she keeps all those words in line. John is the voice of the company. He can often be found hosting Google+ Hangouts on writing and issues writers face online. Archives for his shows can be found on YouTube.