Writing dialogue well is rarely easy, and it certainly isn’t simply about a couple of characters talking to each other.
If you’re not careful with how you write your dialogue, you’ll end up with a story filled with unrealistic sentences, or a cast of robotic characters whose words are indistinguishable from one another.
But never fear. You can rest assured that there are some quick remedies to improving your character dialogue and turning your fictional friends into real people.
First, you need to know what look out for: Your characters must have realistic and consistent dialogue if they are to matter to your readers.
1. Real people don’t tell each other things they already know.
If you want your characters to sound realistic, one thing to remember is this: Never have characters telling each other things they already know simply for the benefit of the reader.
This was something I did a lot early on until an editor noted it in a rejection letter. After it was pointed out to me, it made sense why it wasn’t realistic. People don’t talk like that in real life.
Imagine this conversation:
Husband: “I’m going to place these dishes inside the dishwasher since we ate on them and they need to be cleaned.”
Wife: “Yeah, that’s a great idea. The dishwasher swirls soapy water around the dishes, then rinses and dries them. When they’re clean, we’ll be able eat on them again.”
If an alien who had never heard of a dishwasher was listening in on that conversation, he would instantly know that it serves the purpose of cleaning the used dishes. But he would also have just witnessed a very poor example of a human conversation.
2. Real people don’t sound exactly like one another.
Another problem to watch out for is when all of your characters sound the same. Think of it as a reader. How much do a story suffer when you constantly need to stop reading and trace back to the beginning of conversation to figure out which character is doing the talking?
The best way to prevent this is to keep each character’s dialogue consistent throughout your story.
With every line you write, you should be asking yourself “Would this character say that?” Keeping your character’s dialogue consistent is just as important as keeping his actions consistent. You lose a reader every time the reader finds your character acting “out of character,” whether in words or action.
It’s also a good idea to read your story again once more for each main character, focusing only on the words and actions of that character.
These small tips should hopefully be enough to keep your readers from mixing up your Bills and Teds with your Waynes and Garths.
The ultimate test…
The final check for realistic dialogue is one that I definitely have trouble with, only because I hate the sound of my own voice. That’s right… The best test for realistic dialogue is to read it out loud. Or even better, read it to a friend out loud.
Listen to how the words and conversations sound. While reading, ask yourself, “Do real people talk this way?” If the answer is “yes,” then you are well on your way to creating great dialogue.
So keep working on improving it, because once you master the art of writing convincing dialogue, everything else will fall into place, and the characters you’ve created will come to life.
What tips and tricks do you have for writing dialogue in your stories?