You might have great descriptive writing. You might be able to perfectly describe every detail of your fictional scenery. You might be able to put your imagination onto the page. And maybe you’re fantastic at describing actions, throwing in immaculate adjectives and adverbs.
Unfortunately, writing a novel is a lot more than just scenery and actions. It involves one thing that you NEED to get right: DIALOGUE.
What Does Bad Dialogue Look (…Sound?) Like?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. I think we all prefer “realistic-sounding dialogue”. Nobody likes cheesy one-liners, nobody likes it when we hear a character being all “preachy”. And sometimes, it’s annoying when a book character has better grammar than us, just because the author was so focused on making the dialogue “perfect”. We want dialogue that sounds realistic…you know, the way people would really talk in certain situations.
That being said, if we’re still being honest with ourselves…we DON’T want dialogue to be too realistic.
What do I mean?
Listen to a conversation between two ordinary people. It probably sounds like this:
“Well I was like, you know, uh, shopping for, like, some grapes, pineapples and, uh, carrots…”
Or it sounds like,
“The f***? Who the f*** would wear those f***ing shoes with that junk-a$$ jacket?”
Am I right, or am I right?
NO ONE PICKS UP A BOOK HOPING THAT THE DIALOGUE WILL BE LIKE THIS.
I’m sorry. I will not compromise. It’s BAD writing. I’m not saying it needs to be lofty, Shakespearean poetry. But the way REAL people talk is REALLY quite dumb a lot of the time.
Don’t fool yourself by thinking that your dialogue is “realistic” because your characters sound as illiterate and trashy as the average person. Maybe a character in your story IS illiterate and trashy. But that doesn’t mean your readers will enjoy or take something away from dialogue that is just as pathetic as the way real people talk.
Let’s try to raise the bar for our readers. Why not show the culture what real talking sounds like, instead of catering to low standards? Can’t we…I don’t know…HELP society through our writing?
Dialogue That People WANT
So it needs to be realistic, without sounding like the way real people talk. This means that our characters are using words that make sense, given a certain situation. I mean, a lot of things need to be taken into consideration: the personality of the characters that are talking; the genre the book is in (if it’s a comedy/horror/romance); the time period that the book is set in; etc.
Only you understand the situations and the setting of your characters. These situations and settings will always be unique…which means I can’t provide you with specific guidelines.
That’s why I would challenge you to find other stories that are similar to yours. Study dialogue in movies or books that you enjoy. Writing good dialogue doesn’t have to be hard.
Just keep these things in mind:
- the way that my characters talk should make sense. Please, PLEASE make sure that it makes sense.
- It should have meaning. No one likes random talking, or dialogue that drags on and on. Writers never do anything without purpose.
- Be natural. Don’t be so crafty with your dialogue that it seems like a script. I mean…it sort of IS a script. But it should never seem like that. Could YOU see yourself saying the things that your characters say?
I hope this helps! Any thoughts? What do you think makes for good dialogue?