Today’s question comes from Dawn H.:
My critique partner says my dialogue needs work. How can I make my dialogue better?
Dialogue is a funny thing. It can work for you, or against you.
Dialogue is all about the character. Simply put, rarely would you have a low educated character talk with perfect grammar or an English butler talk in slang. Few people speak grammatically correct, so it is important to have your dialogue not be perfect so to speak LOL.
"I cannot come over to dine with you this evening because my mother has installed a new restriction on my social activities."
Okay, obviously that is a little extreme LOL, but that's the point. A teenager would not speak in such a refined manor, but rather in contractions, slang and inflection.
"I can't come over for supper 'cause my mom grounded me, again."
Being natural is important. Which brings up another good point, you want to be careful of stereotypical dialogue—TOO much character ie: Cowboys that are darlin’ every girl in the story, or a mob guy asking, “You lookin’ at me? You lookin’ at me?” of everyone who may pass him on the sidewalk LOL.
The best way to research dialogue and natural flow is to observe. Take an afternoon to sit in a coffee shop, open a book (so you don’t look stalkerish LOL) and just listen. Listen to inflection, contractions, tones, emotions (excitement and/or anger.) If you are writing a Young Adult, go where the teens are. If you have doctors and nurses maybe try the lobby or cafeteria of a hospital—listen, observe and assimilate.
And remember, not all conversations are all talk. This is important because if you have a page with a lot of dialogue but no actions dotted in here and there to show HOW the characters are speaking, showing HOW the characters are acting/reacting to the conversation, then the scene can become stilted and be pictured by the reader as simply two people standing face to face, arms at their side and speaking monotone. He said this; she said that. Bland.
On your observances, I’m sure you’ll find someone raising their hands in frustration or whipping around when offended in order to defend themselves. A subtle smile when they are being coy or tight fists around a coffee cup when they are trying to control their anger. All these observances are part of a conversation—part of the dialogue. Part of the character.
As always, most important is picking and choosing your words (or rather their words) carefully and placing the action drop ins only in the most dynamic area for the scene, because the last thing you want to do is overwrite a conversation with too many descriptions. Balance here is the key.
Observe. Natural. Balance.
LOL, now isn’t that saying it all.
Thank you again to Dawn H. for her question today. She will receive an envelope with a pen, bookmark and other fun stuff from me and authors I have worked with.
Questions about writing, editing or the publishing process? No question is too little, too silly or should be too embarrassing to ask--knowledge is the key that opens many doors. So, go ahead and ask me: QandA@stacydholmes.com.
And if I use your question on my blog, I will send you a small thank you envelope, too.