Have you ever thought about what dialogue sounds like in real life? Most of it is boring. “What time will you be home today?” “I ate the last slice of pizza.” When an author tries to incorporate real-life dialogue into their novel, it can put the reader to sleep. Dialogue that is too realistic will kill the drama and bore the reader.
Am I saying you should create otherworldly dialogue? No, not unless your particular novel calls for it. Keep it realistic, but don’t mimic real life. Fiction dialogue should be rich and compelling. The ordinariness found in day-to-day exchanges is the death knell for fiction dialogue. So … realistic? Yes, don’t let it sound forced, but keep it engaging.
Make sure your dialogue is reflective of the character’s desires, personality, and quirks. For example, whether your character says, “Don’t need no stinkin’ cops on my ass” or “I apologize, ma’am, for my error in judgment” or “I reckon you need to shut your pie hole and mosey on along,” the reader should be able to create an image of this person.
Dialogue should be used in instances where narration is not enough. Both should move the story along, but dialogue should offer deeper insight into the relationship between the characters who are speaking to each other. If the dialogue sounds mundane, that’s a clue that you need narration instead or not even that if it doesn’t impact the story.
As an editor, I could spend 50 blogs on discussing dialogue, but for now I have created a bulleted list of what good dialogue is and isn’t:
* Good dialogue elevates ordinary language.
* Good dialogue will always hint at the character’s temperament, desires, motivation, or state of mind.
* Good dialogue will move the story along.
* Good dialogue will sound realistic to the extent that characters might interrupt each other, not finish their sentences, or incorporate other quirks of conversational speaking.
* Good dialogue consists of an exchange that is necessary. Ask yourself if the story will suffer if you cut the conversation. If the answer is no, cut it.
* Bad dialogue mimics real-life speech.
* Bad dialogue includes mundane speech that is not impactful or relevant to the story.
* Bad dialogue is ordinary, unless specifically called for in the world of the story. For example, Hi. How are you? I’m fine. What’s new?
* Bad dialogue includes lines the author wants to use because he or she believes “they sound good” but don’t really fit in the world of the story.
I hope this helps next time you’re writing dialogue. Thoughts, opinions, and questions are always welcome!