“Always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start.”― P.G. Wodehouse
Dialogue used to be really hard for me.
My characters would say the cheesiest things. I didn't know why they didn't sound authentic.
I was stuck.
Then I started reading screenwriting books, and books on character, and I started taking a writing class and I learned some important things.
And I learned that they don't always say what's on their mind. They speak in fragments, and dodge questions, and almost always use contractions.
And then I started to let my characters speak for themselves.
That's the thing. I used to make my characters say what I wanted them to say, not what they wanted to say. When I actually started listening to them, I began to write better dialogue.
Before, I would approach a scene and ask myself what does my MC need to say in this scene?
But what I should have been asking was what would my MC say if he were in this situation?
I was forcing the dialogue rather than letting it flow out as a product of character.
So now, when I'm writing dialogue, I don't think to myself what do I want my character to say next. I stop for a minute and listen to them and ask myself what do my characters want to say next.
Sure, I, as the author, have goals and ideas for how this scene will be played out, and I do shape the dialogue to meet those goals.
I don't let the characters talk as long as they want or say whatever they want. I trim it here and there as needed.
Think of it like recording a conversation between two people. If you were putting it into, say, a memoir, you wouldn't just include the transcript. You would trim out all the unnecessary parts - the small talk, the pauses, the off topic bits.
What parts would you keep? The parts that either
a) reveal character
b)advance the story
If your character's conversations are doing both, then you're achieving the purpose of good dialogue.
Writing dialogue should be more like eavesdropping than putting words in people's mouths.
You listen to your characters, hear what they're saying to each other, and write down the relevant bits of the conversation.
It's part of delving into their character to try to find out what motivates them, what they say, think, do, how they react. Because what they say shows us a lot about the way they are.
Why does bad dialogue annoy us so much in books and TV?
Because dialogue is supposed to reveal character, and weak dialogue implies weak or poorly developed character.
So if you want to write strong dialogue, then listen to your characters, cut the unnecessary parts, and keep in mind that the goal is to reveal character.
"The world requires me to re-write its wretched dialogue!”
Do you struggle with dialogue, or does it come easily for you? What helps you with writing good dialogue? What are some things that characters say in books or TV that annoy you?
Let me know by commenting!