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How to Write Effective, Believable Dialogue
What exactly is dialogue? It is simply a conversation between two or more characters. Nothing fancy, just a conversation. But the mere mention or thought of dialogue scares a lot of writers who will do just about anything to avoid it. Writing dialogue is something we must conquer our fear of.
We practice dialogue every time we speak to someone. Dialogue is heard in every conversation we listen to, whether it is an actual conversation between two people or between two characters in a television show or movie. What makes it so scary?
Maybe we are afraid that the conversation between our characters will not seem to be real, that it will obviously be made up. Well, it is created - by you, the writer. The characters are yours. You are their god - you decide their actions as well as the words that come out of their mouths. Whatever comes out of their mouths will be natural to them because you are the one who decides how they will speak.
When you listen to an actual conversation between people, you may notice that there are a lot of 'ahs' and 'ums' thrown into it. Do you really want to read dialogue where every one of those hesitations are thrown in? It is bad enough to listen to, even worse to read. So you, the author, carefully select the words spoken by your characters that mimic real speech. Their conversation should be quick and clean, no sentences or thoughts left unfinished (unless that is a trait of your character or part of the story). If only real people spoke as well as most fictional characters.
But can’t a story be written without dialogue? The purpose of dialogue is much the same as the purpose of description. Through the words spoken by your characters, vital facts are revealed, not only about other characters, but also about events, about the way things look or appear, about things that have happened, about things that are planned. Take dialogue out of a story and you will end up telling what happens instead of showing.
Dialogue brings you closer to the characters and action, it helps you to experience and take part in the story. Absence of dialogue has to be made up for by the writer in other ways, such as long and lengthy descriptions. These tend to be rather flat and boring and are a poor substitute for dialogue.
Besides revealing thing about the character, dialogue also moves the story forward and delivers some excitement to it. Every time your character opens his mouth, make sure something of importance comes out of it - not just chit-chat to pass the time and increase your word count.
How do you deal with regional dialect when writing dialogue? Bob, Son of Battle written by Alfred Ollivant is a good book, though frustrating to read. The Scottish dialect is written so thick and heavy throughout that you need to stop and figure out just what is being said. Some of the dialogue is easy to figure out, some not so easy.
If your character has a heavy Scottish accent or a heavy Russian accent, just write that he speaks with a heavy Scottish or Russian accent. Throw in a few regional phrases or words once in a while. That is more than enough to get the point across, but not so much that your reader will put the book down in frustration.
When writing dialogue remember to identify who is speaking. Also, start a new line when the speaker changes.
“Who’s pounding on our door at this ungodly hour?” Marilyn mumbled.
“I’ll see who it is,” her husband said as he threw back the covers.
If your character pauses between words, here is an example of how you could write it - This stew is . . horrible.
Quotation marks always indicate spoken dialogue, they do not need to be place around thoughts. Thoughts are not spoken out loud, therefore they are not considered dialogue. If you wish, you may put the thoughts in italics, but it isn’t necessary.
A good way to practice writing dialogue is to eavesdrop when you are out shopping. Listen, in an unobtrusive manner, to what people are saying to each other, what they are talking about. Jot down some notes, go home and write it down as it would appear in a book or story. You could even make a story surrounding the dialogue.
As a writer, you cannot shy away from dialogue forever. It is one skill that you must conquer if you ever wish to be published.
Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Binion. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Lisa Binion. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Lisa Binion for details.
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