Dialogue is one of my favorite parts of writing. It’s where I feel like characters really come alive, both in the words they say, and in the words they don’t say. Good dialogue should flow like a conversation, but as a writer, you also have to remember that you are a story teller, and an entertainer. Conversations concise, yet flowing. So here are my 5 tips to help you write realistic dialogue.
Cut unnecessary words and phrases
We use them a lot in verbal conversation, but in writing, it just makes things too abrupt. Phrases like, “Well”, “So”, “Anyway”, and “What I’m trying to say” all makes the writing feel choppy when we could be flowing right through the conversation.
“Hello”, “Goodbye”, and “How are you doing” is also unnecessary in most cases. Again, I know we usually have a lot of it in verbal conversations, but as an entertainer and story-teller, you have to be concerned about how your eye reads over the page, and whether or not you’re making your readers skip over parts of the story. We all now how introductions go, so make it brief or you might bore your reader into skipping over important bits of information.
Believe me, I make these kinds of mistakes a lot myself, but it works so much better without these cushion-y fluff words in the way.
Hi, Mr. Petersburg!” Aubrey said, waving.
Petersburg waved back, standing from his seat at the restaurant table. “Hello, Aubrey.”
She shook his hand. “How are you?”
“Fine, fine.” Petersburg gestured for her to sit down in front of him. “So, let’s talk about these plans of yours. You say you want to start a restaurant.” He took a seat, pushing a hand through his hair. “Now, have you put much thought into how much that’s going to cost?”
“Mr. Petersburg,” Aubrey said as Petersburg stood from his seat at the restaurant table.
“Aubrey.” He shook her hand and gestured for her to sit. “You mentioned having plans about starting a restaurant?” He took a seat, pushing a hand through his hair. “Have you even put much thought into how much that’s going to cost?”
Break up dialogue with action
If you noticed in my example above, there were a lot actions in between the conversation. Since you’re not a screen-writer, you don’t have visuals to express how your characters are feeling. So you need to break up long strips of conversation with those feelings so we can know how your characters are reacting to what’s being said, or even more insight on what they aren’t saying.
Even in movies and TV shows, conversations are always broken up with action. They’ll talk and cook, play with a baseball, flip through a magazine. Anything that makes the conversation more fluid, and even interrupts it at times. A mother talking to her son about taking baseball practice will interrupt the talk every so often to ask him to grab a spice from the spice cabinet, or hand her an onion for her to chop.
All of these things make the conversation more natural, and again, it prevents your readers from skipping down short lines of dialogue.
“Mom, I’m thinking about quitting baseball.”
“Oh? Whatever for, Brian?”
“I don’t know, I just don’t like being on the team anymore.”
“Hm, why do I find that hard to believe?”
“Mom, I’m thinking about quitting baseball.” Brian put his equipment on the ground in a huff, sitting on a seat at the counter and crossing his arms.
His mother raised an eyebrow as she turned back to stirring her spaghetti sauce. “Oh? Whatever for, Brian?”
“I don’t know.” He put his elbow on the table, resting his hand on his hand. “I just don’t like being on the team anymore.”
She smiled to herself, knowing this revelation may have been related to his recent frustration with his team losing the last few games. And he was his father’s son—quick to give up on anything that doesn’t come easy. But like her husband, these fits usually only lasted as long as the mood did, and would soon be gotten over by the time he remembers how much he loves the game more than his frustration for losing.
“Hm, why do I find that hard to believe?” She said, putting down her spoon and sitting down next to him, pulling him in to lean on her chest.
See how the latter helped illustrate both characters much better than the first? You now see much more of Brian’s character, and you see what his mother is thinking as she attempts to console him. It also gives your readers a cozy feeling to see how the characters interact with each other and their environment as they talk.
I hope this helps!