Dialogue Part 2

Now that you know how to frame dialogue, let’s talk about the dialogue itself. People don’t speak in the same way that most people write. If you want your dialogue to sound real, you have to write it differently.

So how do people really speak?

There are a lot of interjections: people say things like anyways, but, um, uh, well, I think, I don’t know, and maybe a lot. They also can use some pretty odd contractions (shouldn’t’ve, couldn’t’ve, shoulda, mighta, etc.). There are plenty of stops, starts, fragments, ellipses, and tangents. Real-life dialogue is messy and imperfect.

So if the dialogue in your writing sounds too perfect, it’s not believable.

Here’s an example of unbelievable dialogue:

“Alice? I need you to do something for me. Will you do it?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Can I talk to you somewhere private?”

“Okay. Where did you have in mind?”

“It has to be somewhere where Carl cannot overhear us.”

“Why do you not want him to overhear us?”

“Because I do not think he would like what I have to say.”

To make your dialogue sound more realistic:

  • Say it in your head—pretend you’re the character and you’re talking, how would you say it? Pretend you’re talking to one of your friends, and write down exactly what you would say. You can polish later, but remember that dialogue can break a lot of the rules that regular writing can’t.
  • Make it less wordy
  • Make sure there are enough commas and breaks: make sure you can say everything between punctuation in one breath.
  • Add some interjections.

Here’s an example:

“Hey, Alice? Um, can you do something for me?”

“Ummm…sure. What?”

“Will you—I mean, can I—talk to you somewhere a little more…private?”

“Um, maybe. Sure, okay. Where?”

“Maybe…somewhere Carl can’t hear us.”

“Oh…okay. Why?”

“I don’t think he’d like what I’m going to say.”

That was kind of hard to read though, wasn’t it? There’s a balance you have to strike here: your dialogue can’t be too realistic, because, again, real dialogue is messy. Your readers need to understand what’s being said, and they need to be able to read through it quickly.

Let’s clean it up:

“Hey, Alice? Can you do something for me?”

“Um…sure. What?”

“Can I talk to you somewhere a little more…private?”

“Sure, okay. Where?”

“Somewhere Carl can’t hear us.”

“Why?”

“I don’t think he’d like what I’m going to say.”

If you want to make things even more complicated, you can include different speech patterns for individual characters. Some characters will include more interjections, some will be more wordy or rambly, some will only speak in short sentences, some will speak in mostly complex sentences, some characters might stutter.

Also, a quick note here: most characters won’t use another character’s name often while talking to them, if they ever use it at all. If you’re going to have them call each other by name, give it a good reason. Like make it one of your character’s quirks (have one character call everyone else by name all the time, and have the other characters notice and get annoyed/tease them about it), or have them only call their friends by name when they’re teasing them.

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