|By: Steve Manning|
We immediately hear those words and decide whether the dialogue is legitimate. We decide whether the character, as we know him or her so far, would actually talk that way. If we don’t know the character at all, we use a very broad baseline and decide whether we’d accept a stranger on the street talking that way.
So to develop a winning technique for writing dialogue, you’ve got to listen to the way people speak. Family members, relatives, strangers, people on the telephone. What do they sound like?
You’ll notice that they almost all speak in short sentences. Two, perhaps three sentences at the most before they expect someone else to chime in.
Their paragraphs really do focus on just one thought or idea.
Our society abhors a vacuum, so a pause happens between speakers, not in the middle of one-person’s thought. That’s also why a pause can be one of the most powerful dialogue tools when it’s used in a play. The audience wants someone to say something, anything, to relieve the level of anticipation.
When people speak, they use simple language. Yes, I’ve know a few people who can speak wonderfully with an extensive vocabulary and make it sound totally natural. But that’s the exception. Make your dialogue very simplistic.
If you actually transcribed what people say as they talk, and then read it a few days later, you’d really have a tough time understanding what they were saying. The ums, the ahs, the tics, the embarrassed laughter, the stops and starts. They’d actually read like idiots.
But when we listen to those people, we filter out all that verbal debris. So when you write dialogue, don’t include it. You become the debris filter. Your dialogue doesn’t become more realistic simply because the character reads like an imbecile… unless you want your character to actually come across that way.
Unless you’re writing a play, keep dialogue to an absolute minimum. Don’t tell, show. Don’t have a character explain a situation if describing the scene that does the same thing.
Also, people don’t talk to themselves out loud, and their inner thoughts rarely take the form of dialogue. You’ll have to come up with a solution to that one for your story. An excellent example of this is the movie Castaway, with Tom Hanks.
It isn’t until we need some explanation that Wilson, a companion volleyball, makes an appearance.
Accents are fun, and Mark Twain received high praise as a writer who finally wrote the way people spoke.
But if you have a lot of dialogue, a heavy southern accent can become tiresome on the printed page. Tell the reader the character speaks with a southern accent and let them mentally fill in the drawl.
Finally, keep the “he saids,” and “she saids” to a minimum. At any point in great dialogue the reader should know who’s talking without much assistance from the author.
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