1. Miller0700
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    Miller0700 Contributing Member

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    How to write realistic dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Miller0700, Apr 5, 2016.

    If I could write realistic conversations between my characters then I feel I would get better reviews on my writing, but whenever I read over the dialogue I often cringe in embarrassment because that's not what people would say in real life.
     
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Read authors who handle dialogue well. Listen to people in day to day life (but don't try to reproduce their dialogue exactly - part of the trick of dialogue is to give the impression of natural speech without trying to actually "transcribe" natural speech). Apart from that, just practice writing dialogue. I once did a workshop where we had to write an entire story with just dialogue. That was a useful exercise.
     
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  3. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    After you finish a section of dialogue, read it out loud. Then put it down and paraphrase it, out loud, as if you were going to say it yourself, and make any changes to the written word that you noticed in your speech. This might get you on the right track.
     
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  4. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    Oh man, I would have loved that project! If there hasn't been a writing contest yet utilizing that, I vote we have one soon!
     
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  5. Miller0700
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    Miller0700 Contributing Member

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    I did something like that too.
     
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  6. KokoN
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    KokoN Active Member

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    Definitely read it out loud. Maybe write long sections of dialogue in script form first, as if you were writing a screen play, so you don't get bogged down with the he said/she said elements. Not sure if that would help but maybe.
     
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  7. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    1. Find some dialog that you like in a movie or TV show (Aaron Sorkin is a good choice, as is the Big Bang Theory).
    2. Write it down as dialog.
    3. Notice how it differs from the way people usually speak. It's tighter, more condensed, more rhythmic.
    4. Go back to your own work and try to get the dialog to have those same qualities.

    That works for me (sometimes).
     
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  8. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Test it. If you read it and it's not real enough for you, as you say you have done, then change it until it is. Compare it to real life conversations, but be wary that everyone is different and you might say it one way but that doesn't mean your character can't say it another. And as @JLT pointed out, dialogue often isn't that realistic anyway. Although I like to make my dialogue a little more fumbly to add a bit more sense of realism.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2016
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  9. Bryman
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    Bryman Member

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    Writing dialogue is easily the thing I struggle the most with. And since I really love character driven plots and want to write books in that manner, this is a huuuge set back.

    However, I find that personifying your character helps a lot. I write the dialogue that comes to mind first. This stuff is super bland and awful. Then I go back through and list the people in the conversation. After that, I get into the mindset of one of those characters, usually the one who has the most to say first, and I basically roleplay them with the bland stuff to go off of. I repeat this for each character and then edit and revise after.

    It helps to get distinguishable dialogue patterns as well as realistic sounding dialogue from them. I can't say it's fullproof, since I sometimes end up getting ride of whole dialogue sequences after attempting my method, but it's helped more often than not.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can you describe the flaws that you see in your dialogue?
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    That would be useful for people giving you advice here.
     
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  12. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Talk to people. Read people. Good dialogue is more than what is inside of the quotes. It is everything we tell without saying it. Just like real life.
     
  13. Miller0700
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    Miller0700 Contributing Member

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    It seems as though I can't get out of the "teenage" aspect of my writing years (I'm 22.) My dialogue comes off as a teenager said it.


    Update: It's also sounds too cliched.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
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  14. Indefatigable Id
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    Indefatigable Id Member

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    Well, to be fair... you've only not been a teenager for three years, tops. If you wanted to write realistic dialogue, it would involve a lot of people saying "um" and "uh" a lot. Also, the word "like" gets overused quite a bit. So, I think some very realistic dialogue would go a little bit something like this:

    "Uh, like... did you remember to close the fridge?"
    "Um, yeah. I think so."
    "Okay, cuz like, mom said it would all defrost or something."
    "Yeah, no. I closed the fridge."

    Riveting.
     
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  15. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I think it's best to bridge realism and entertainment concerns together. Find a middle ground that feels believably flawed but also is dramatic and interesting enough, and neat enough, that it fits in a story.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
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  16. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Also however, to repeat earlier, different people speak differently to me. For example; I tend to be quite nerdy and fancy with my language, but also use swear words quite liberally, and very casual language mixed in. So that's a thing you want to think about when writing dialogue. There is no universal standard for dialogue, it depends on who's talking, what circumstances, what genre, what style.
     
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  17. Indefatigable Id
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    Indefatigable Id Member

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    I have observed so many styles of dialogue, from The Walking Dead to Pokemon to Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, to Final Fantasy X... and I feel that as long as the voice is consistent throughout it will work, even if it is odd or sounds annoyingly staged, or if its just over the top. I kind of feel like you begin to accept "okay, this is just how this person talks" after hearing it for a while. Either the voice resonates with you, or it doesn't. The specifics of what voice to write in are really up to you.

    If you want to write something that is technically perfect (as in, no human beings would ever talk this way, like Star Trek) then you can, but if you want to then add a little bit of flavor to it (colloquialisms, slang, what have you) you can do that, too. As long as you do it well. I recently watched a video of the complete Metal Gear Solid story, including all cut scenes with game play omitted. Four hours later... I realized that the entire story and all of the dialogue was written in the same voice. A very gritty, yet pseudo-intellectual sounding voice that was both sensitive and ruthless. I liked it but I was somewhat afraid of what it might reveal about human nature that I didn't want to think about. Very unique, very cool.

    But then take a look at a writer like Maddox, everything he does is so aggressive and condescending and judgmental. It's funny, though. Somehow, he is humorous while being a complete jerk. If he wrote dialogue, then his characters would all come across a bit like that.

    What I'm saying, my main point, is that your own individual writing voice is very important because it's sort of the "vanilla" that all of your other characters are going to play against.
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Well, I try to avoid making my characters like me unless it's intentional, but yeah. Especially those first two paragraphs.:agreed:
     
  19. Indefatigable Id
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    Indefatigable Id Member

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    Well that's the thing about voice, it has nothing to do with the specifics of who your characters are. It's just like your actual speaking voice, in that regard. No matter what role you assume, for example if you were acting live, you would still speak with the same pair of vocal cords. The words you speak might change based upon the script you've been given, but that's about it. It's sort of the same. Two writers can address the same plot and remain true to all of the characters, but the actual words that are uttered by those characters in the story are going to be different.
     
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  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could write stories that are about teenagers, while you're working on it?

    Meanwhile, do you have any pieces with dialogue in the Review Room, so that we could offer specific opinions?
     
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  21. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    I often just sit and listen to people, not what they're saying exactly, but I watch for reactions, odd little noises, movements, chemistry. I think adding those little pieces of humanity can help.

    Consider also that most conversations include interruptions, incomplete sentences, and mostly not very long winded explanations.

    If it doesn't sound like something someone would say in real life then you need to try and rephrase it until it does, or consider whether that is just how your character might speak.

    I also have conversations with myself (being two different characters who are having the conversation), this way I completely ignore the filler to the dialogue and just talk. I take note of how I say things, why I've said things, reaction of the other character, etc. (crazy? I dunno, works for me)

    Practice also is going to help - just write nothing but dialogue, no filler, until you feel it sounds more natural and then you can fill in around it.
     
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  22. jannert
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    That's a good exercise if you're writing a screenplay, and can be a good way to learn what to leave in and what to take out of dialogue. However, if you're writing a story, this focus on dialogue alone can come across as talking heads. A reader doesn't know what else is going on in the scene. A viewer will.

    I'd say find a good book (novel or short story) that has dialogue passages in it, and study how it's done. Good dialogue is more than just what the characters say. It's also how they speak and how their meaning is received by other people in the scene. This is difficult to achieve (not impossible, but difficult) with the spoken words alone.

    It's good to include visuals to let readers know what the characters are doing as they speak. Maybe an indication of how gently or vehemently the words are being spoken. A statement like "Don't do that," can be spoken in a pleading manner. It can also be a brisk order that must not be disobeyed. Sometimes you can convey these differences with what the dialogue response from other character is, but not always. And if you rely on the response to convey the meaning, you're going to struggle to have the reader get it right the first time. If they assume "Don't do that," is a brisk command and it turns out to be a request instead, that confusion will momentarily derail the train. Learn to use writer's techniques when building a dialogue passage. Don't rely on filmmaker's techniques.

    Writers have tools at their disposal that filmmakers don't. And vice versa. Studying one in order to do the other is probably not the best idea.
     
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  23. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    Find each character's 'Voice' before you start writing them. Come up with an accent, mannerisms, speech patterns. Pick a word that they overuse.

    Making each character sound unique is a big part of making things feel realistic. All too often I see dialogue written where each character sounds exactly the same when they talk, despite their differing opinions, knowledge, history, and character.
     
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  24. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    This will probably sound pretty stupid, but hey if the shoe fits wear it. I would think that most dialogue between people is just background noise as it applies to whatever activity/story is going on. So how much of this noise do you include to make it feel natural if it really doesn't move the story along? My first thought it is primarily all cut out but then that would seem to leave the story sounding too mechanical or as Indefatigable Id said technically perfect, which might apply to a military type operation or possibly a very deep technical discussion, and I would still expect even in that type of conversation some background noise to be present in real life. So is a book's dialogue intended to sound very natural or to keep the story moving along? I am going to guess that it will be some sort of balance but how do you measure that balance? Would it vary based on genre?
     
  25. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    This is what I do. I've been having conversations with characters for as long as I can remember. Find a book that you love with a character that you love. Pick a point in the book where they are about to do something really stupid. You know it's stupid because you already know the ending of the story. Imagine yourself as a time-traveller dropped into that point in the world and just talk to the character.
    Have a conversation with them in your head the same way you would in real life.
    When you get your imagination running with those exercises try it with your own characters.

    Dammit Lord Miles, do you realize how your life might have changed if you hadn't jumped off that stupid wall!!
     

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