Thursday, August 23, 2007

Creating Natural Dialogue

By Heather Moore

Have you ever been told that your character’s dialogue sounds stilted, formal, or unnatural? One easy way to prevent this is by reading your scenes aloud. When you “hear” the words you’ve written, suddenly you pick up on any awkward or disjointed phrases.

Some tips I’ve found useful:

1. Say more with less. Showing character through dialogue applies to this. If you told your girlfriend you found the perfect dress, she might gush, “When can I see it?” If you told your husband, he might say, “How much?” These two different responses show character.

2. Don’t name call.
In other words, if Jeff is speaking to Roxy, he probably doesn’t say, “Roxy, will you call me later?” He’ll say, “Call me.” There are some exceptions for when characters call each other by name. They include when they meet each other somewhere, when they’re angry, or passionate.

3. First draft dialogue vs. second draft.
When the story is coming fast, your job is to get the words down quickly. This includes dialogue. But before you start sending your work to readers, go over the dialogue again with the character in mind. If your character is annoyed at someone, would he say, “Knock it off,” “Buzz off,” or “Leave me alone”?

4. If you have one character who swears, fine. But if all your characters swear, and with the same expletives, it becomes confusing.

5. Make sure when a question is asked by one character it’s answered in some way by the other character—whether in action or dialogue.

6. Don’t forget the unforgettable rule of thumb. Use “said” most of the time when writing dialogue.

7. After the second draft, read aloud again. You’ll be glad you did.


Stephanie Black said...

Too much repeating of characters' names in dialogue is a pet peeve of mine, and I've seen it even in a national bestseller. People just don't talk that way!

Annette Lyon said...

Excellent advice, Heather. Bad dialogue can ruin an otherwise great story. You've provided a great set of tips to avoid that.

Janette Rallison said...

All great advice--as usual!

Julie Wright said...

I am a huge fan of great dialogue and stilted dialogue kills a story faster for me than anything! GREAT ADVICE!