“Dialogue is my forte. Whether that is because I am an actor or merely talented in that regard I have no idea. Nor do I care. When I write, I always feel like I am just taking dictation-following the characters around and writing down what they say.”
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where a certain scene between two people completely moved you to tears? Maybe the conversation made you laugh yourself silly, put you on the edge of your seat, or even made you stop and think. That's heart-grabbing dialogue. That kind of dialogue is what makes stories so real and touching.
It's not just what the author writes that touches the reader, it's what the characters say. It's how you have them express the way they feel. Many authors will tell you that to be a good writer you must read, read, read. I believe that is true, but I think it's also very helpful to watch movies. One thing that has really helped me with writing dialogue has been taking notes during the movies that I watch. What makes a powerful dialogue scene in movies so strong? How does the diversity of characters contribute to the uniqueness of the story? Watch the character's facial expressions, their gestures, body language, etc. Make sure to take good notes and include what you have learned by watching movies into your dialogue.
Each scene should contribute to the plot of the story, not weigh it down. While you're editing, try to delete as many pointless dialogue lines as you can. Make sure your dialogue is realistic, but don't make it so real that the readers get bored and put the book down.
How can you tell if the dialogue is slowing the story down or moving it forward? Ask yourself these questions:
Is my dialogue...
- helping to develop my characters? The best way to have your characters developed are through dialogue, since you are showing the reader their personality without having to tell them about it. If the character is funny, then prove it by what they say. If they're bossy, then don't just tell that to the reader, let them experience it for themselves. Also, make sure that the way you have your characters talk match their personality as well. If your protagonist is uneducated then he/she may use slang in their speech, and their vocabulary probably won't be as sharp as an intelligent character's would. Here are some great tips to keep in mind while choosing the diction for your characters: http://www.ehow.com/how_4543069_construct-diction-character-writing.html
- creating conflict? Without dialogue, it's almost impossible for a conflict to take place in your story. Remember there can be minor conflicts, such as the protagonist being late for school. Then there is the big conflict which takes place during the climax of the story. This should create the biggest turning point in your story for your protagonist, so make sure to especially avoid short-talk dialogue during this part.
- too dragged out? Make sure that pointless dialogue, such as short-talk, is cut out from your story. Keep the readers interested in what is happening. Make sure to include enough action as well. You do not want you readers to become bored or confused.
- showing instead of telling? Some people may think it's almost impossible to “tell” in dialogue when you use quotation marks, but this is not true. Speech tags should be only used when necessary. Instead of saying “she gasped”, you could say “her jaw dropped as she slowly backed away from him”. Don't forget to use the notes you take during movies to help you choose which body gestures to add throughout your dialogue.
- including background information? Dialogue is a great tool to provide the reader with necessary background information. Instead of telling the reader during the first chapter that the protagonist is a detective, you could have one of the characters let the reader know this by bringing it up in dialogue. For example: “Ever since you were hired to investigate the murder, you've been prying into every detail of my personal life.” Remember to be sure that the background information contributes to the story. Don't have a character talk about the protagonist's dead Grandma if that's not part of the plot or character development.
- helping my protagonist to grow? Characters learn from each other through dialogue. Think of Landon from “A Walk To Remember”. The conversations he had with Jamie eventually turned him into a completely different person. By creating this kind of dialogue you can help your readers grow as well. Just be sure not to make your characters too preachy or the only thing that will grow is the reader's annoyance.
Of course there can be endless questions someone could ask themselves when editing or writing dialogue, but what are some things you try to keep in mind? Which book or movie included your favorite heart-grabbing conversation? Why do you think it touched you?
“To me, all writing is like music. And especially dialogue.”