1. Dylan_Gardner
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    Dylan_Gardner New Member

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    How to write good dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dylan_Gardner, Dec 22, 2010.

    Hi, I'd like some help with ways to write dialogue to keep the story flowing and interesting. My writing is predominantly set in first person present tense and is very descriptive of settings, events, feelings, etc. I apparently do this very well, but as I introduce more characters into the story I've been told I need more dialogue among them.

    The problem is I'm not that good at writing dialogue and either never include enough or begin to bore the reader. The novel I am endeavouring to write is an insane thriller with tension being built throughout the whole book.

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    I'd appreciate any tips people could give me for writing interesting dialogue. Also how do I differentiate the dialogues tone between my four centric characters.

    Thanks
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    If it is first person present tense then I find I need a lot of dialogue to keep the story varied and moving (my work is first person present tense).

    For me best way is to build the characters - each one has a word box with words they would use and I wouldn't. That helps me to keep them varied. Envisage them interacting with each other. Interact with them yourself outside of the story. I keep a blog with one character.

    Also look up Islander on this site his dialogue is stunning.
  3. TokyoVigilante
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    TokyoVigilante New Member

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    Speak it out loud. If it's natural, then you'll find an organic rytheme. It'll flow on it's own, even if you're an awful actor. If it's bad, then it'll just sound flat and like you're reading off a page.

    If your character needs to sound a certain way, then you write your dialogue appropriately. If it works, then that's how it'll sound.

    Of course, it's possible to sound TO natural. Diologue serves a purpose of informing your audience about characters and information relevant to the story. Keep it efficient.
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    read the works of the best writers and you'll see how to do it successfully, won't need any 'tips'...
  5. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo New Member

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    I see my scenes as a movie in my mind and role play the characters as a part I'm playing in said movie. If things are going well, it's flowing so fast that it's like real life. Once I've established the personalities of the characters it's as if they're fluidly doing the talking.

    From what I understand, many of the best actors get the idea of the scene, avoid the script, and ab lib the whole think. Al Pacino, the the famous Dog Day Afternoon ab libed the entire script and the film has many great lines.
    Imagine if some producer offered you ten million to play all the characters in your book on stage, I'll bet you could do it then.
  6. Evinus
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    Evinus New Member

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    I'm the exact opposite. I always forget about descriptions and setting and spend a lot of time on dialogue, which I'm told is more my forte anyway.

    My advice is to really think about how people speak in real life. People usually don't explain everything and leave a lot to interpretation. We tend to use metaphors. Sometimes we have speech ticks.

    If you need to, read your dialogue aloud. If it sounds awkward when you say it, chances are it'll come across in print.
  7. Show
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    But they are the anomalies! :p Sorry, couldn't resist. xD

    There's no 'right' way to write dialogue, IMO. Listen to people talk and write dialogue accordingly. If you can, listen specifically to people similar to your characters and write accordingly. It'll make it even better.

    But also, don't be afraid to write them a bit differently. Some of my characters have been said to have talked too old for their age. I do see the point, but then I also hear lots of kids using very sophisticated vocabularies at some fairly young ages. So clearly kids who are able to make a slightly more mature use of the English language than the average schoolboy are not all that unbelievable if you keep it checked.

    Just write the dialogue like you're writing real people. It might be a little trial and error thing but keep at it.
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    To this I would add a caveat. I would not recommend writing dialogue in the exact way that people typically speak, because your goal in dialogue is to assist in the telling of a story rather than to faithfully record a conversation. To do the latter will result in the inclusion of a lot of extraneous material that will only distract the reader. Written dialogue should be something of an abstraction of real conversation.
  9. Show
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    ^^^^That's true to a point, you have to be able to filter out stuff you don't need or want. But you need to be able to make your characters sound like real people. The best way to do that is to listen to real people. Characters have to feel real or else assisting the story doesn't mean all that much. It's not like real people are constantly saying things relevant to their life's story. Likewise, I don't think characters should either. Now, that doesn't mean that the story should get bogged down with pointless dialogue, but it can help a story seem more genuine if a character's words are not so plot driven.
  10. Eunoia
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    Eunoia New Member Contributor

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    I suggest you eavesdrop. Eavesdrop a lot and take notes on what people say, their body language and so forth. This will help in writing good dialogue. Dialogue has to have a purpose too, usually either to move the plot forward or for characterisation so bear this in mind.
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    huh?... so what if they are?... isn't that what nearly everyone who wants to write strives to become?... are you saying just because the best are the best, that new writers should not use the quality of their work as a goal to be attained?... ;-)
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Listening to real people is great, but if your dialog sounds like an actual conversation by real people in the real world, you're not writing good dialog for fiction.

    Dialog needs to feel real, not be real. In the real world people speak with a lot of disfluencies, which isn't usually good in fiction.

    And yes, feel free to look up some best-seller that has poorly written dialog and pretend that means it's a good idea to not practice doing dialog well.

    My suggestion is for people to read Richard Bausch, who I consider the greatest American writer of dialog.

    Also, one trick I find helpful is to record the dialog as acted-out, how you want it to sound, and then try to fill the gaps with non-dialog. One of the major issues people have with dialog is pacing and timing (you know, when one character asks a question, then we get a block of even relevant and interesting infodump before the second character finally responds but so much time has passed we forgot what the question even was). Recording the intended dialog first helps with timing, as well as reading the dialog out loud after a scene is constructed and taking note of timing between dialog.

    Also, create pauses, don't state them. Same with interruptions. Instead of some clumsy like like 'there was 10 seconds where she said nothing' just add in some action or interior character work that creates that pause (unless your character is Rainman and was actually counting seconds, then it's more relevant).

    Another fun (as in not fun at all, but helpful) exercise is to take a scene from a movie and rewrite it as fiction. It gives practice filling in gaps between dialog, but not letting yourself screw up pacing because you can rewatch the scene to see the 'proper' timing. Meaning, if the characters in the movie don't speak for 4 seconds, and you've got a pause that feels more like 30 seconds at that same point, then something is wrong.

    By the time a scene is constructed, you should be able to get a few friends and act out the scene, a friend for each character and you reading the non-dialog. If it seems awkward or your actors are standing around uncomfortably waiting for you to finish explaining the nature of politics in the world you've created, then bad to the drawing board, as your dialog isn't flowing properly.

    The best way, imo, is to simply understand the characters and situations so well that you aren't writing dialog, really, but simply transcribing what the characters are saying in the scene as if they exist whether you're watching them or not.
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    He's taking a poke at me, because I said in another thread that it was ridiculous to look at examples of stuff like 'infodump' done in a best seller or classic from literature, or citing anomalies in fiction, and think that poor writing decisions are then justified and excusable.

    Like hey, look, Bright Lights, Big City was written in second person, so it's not a bad thing if I, as an amateur writing trying to break into the industry, am also deliberately writing in second person and hoping to be picked up by an agent.
  14. Sentry1157
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    Sentry1157 New Member

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    The dialogue should be natural. Sometimes speaking it yourself or getting a friend to assist would really help. You should also make sure there are enough pauses if the sentence/dialogue is long. Try speaking it without the commas and you're realize how exhausting or what an effort it is.

    Even though its fiction-if that's what you're writing-everything should be as real as the world. You can also try listening to dialogue from movies for examples.
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    "But in the real world we like, umm, don't really speak--how would you say--very like direct and our talking, ummm, I mean our conversating, is often broken up and filled with, like, filler and stuff or whatever that you really wouldn't want in fiction."


    Seriously, have you heard how most people talk? You do NOT want your fiction to mimic real-life speech, only give an accurate feeling and representation of it.

    One of the best examples of this is the old writing advice to cut off the first inch of the page of dialog because you have:

    "Why yes," Tom said, "I did say that."

    Well," Kate replied, "how could you dare?"

    "Honestly, Kate," Tom said, "Why do you care?"


    Instead we can be more direct without all the static in 'real' conversation:

    "I did say that," Tom said.
    "How could you dare?" Kate replied.
    "Why do you care?"


    What we get isn't how people actually talk, but what they're saying feels/seems real, but we cut away the fat. Just want to be clear where and how the 'reality' of dialog should be created. What the characters are saying should feel real, but how much they're saying is usually trimmed way down from 'real' conversation.
  16. Sentry1157
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    Sentry1157 New Member

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    Yes, I have. And not everyone is like that. The dialogue is different with each character, like each person. Some people are more proper, some or sloppy.

    It bugs me when many of the characters in a book all seem to speak the same way.

    I disagree. Each character is going to speak differently. Sometimes you need that "fat" for a particular character. Otherwise they aren't expressing themselves.

    Everyone has their particular way with writing dialogue. I like the dialogue to reflect each character differently, otherwise their just all robots, saying the same thing, speaking the same way and educated at the same level.
  17. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yes, I was very clearly saying all dialog should be trimmed down to the point everyone sounds exactly the same and like robots. (grr, where's the eyeroll smiley).

    If your character's dialog is differentiated with things like 'ummm' and other disfluencies and filler, then maybe try, try again.
  18. Trilby
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    Trilby Senior Member Contributor

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    To write good dialogue I think you need to know your characters inside-out, upside-down and back to front.
    The dialogue, as well as moving the story forward should also give the reader a feel of the character's personality. e.g. meek and mild, bad tempered, loving, humorous, foul mouthed, religious, honest, trustworthy, sly and so on. But keep it succinct and relevant.
    1 person likes this.
  19. Trilby
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    Trilby Senior Member Contributor

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    sorry DP
  20. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma New Member Contributor

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    This exactly.
  21. Islander
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    Islander Senior Member Contributor

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    Ditto.

    And above all, I try to imagine what each character is feeling as they respond. In that situation, would they be scared? Angry? Blurt out something? Be confused and stutter? Start to say something, then realise something, and break off their own sentence?

    Sometimes I make sentences more realistic by inserting grammatical errors, ellipses, "Err"'s, and so on, but as with swearing, a little goes a long way. Too much and it'll be hard to read. You only need to give the reader a small reminder every now and then that the characters are ordinary, imperfect people with lots of contradicting thoughts and emotions going on in their heads.
  22. kaylynwrong
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    kaylynwrong New Member

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    I like to speak all the dialogue I write. Sometimes I do this with different voices for different characters. And I keep in mind phrases/expressions/words certain characters use. But if I write something, read it aloud, and think it sounds unnatural, then I don't use that dialogue. I find a better way of saying what I want the characters to say.
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