Slaying the Dialogue Monster
So you need to write dialogue. Whether you’re setting out to pen a short story, video script, or some other form of media, making the way people speak sound natural and yet still effectively promote your message can be a daunting task. Chances are, you’ll run into the Dialogue Monster sooner or later.
The Dialogue Monster appears out of thin air, a fiery-eyed beast who sows self-doubt about character dialogue into the hearts of all who dare approach. Fortunately, there are ways to slay this monster – and improve your writing in the process. With these few tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to writing quality character dialogue that engagingly makes your point.
1. Drive Your Point
Nothing stalls a story faster than meandering dialogue that goes nowhere and does nothing. Dialogue should serve one of two purposes: it should reveal more about the characters, and it should move the point forward. Well-written dialogue will master both in the same breath.
You can use dialogue to establish who your speakers are, what their relationship to each other is, and their roles in the story. You can also use dialogue for exposition, to explain events that are unfolding, and to drive the point. Begin each conversation with a motive – what does each person want? And what changes character-wise and purpose-wise when the conversation is over?
If nothing changes, then the conversation is probably unnecessary.
2. Know Your Characters
This seems obvious, but it’s essential. You need to know everything that you can about the personalities of your characters, and furthermore, how their personalities affect their speech. Do they have accents? Verbal tics? Do they stutter when they get nervous? Is their voice soft or loud? Is their speech casual or formal? Is it easy for them to find words? In a party of five, will they be doing the talking or taking a back seat?
You need to know this before you write dialogue for any of your speakers. The better you know your character, the easier it will be to get into their head. When you can understand their emotions, thought processes, and speech patterns, writing dialogue will be as easy as picking up a pen.
3. Read Out Loud
Sometimes it’s tough to know when character dialogue sounds natural. On occasion it can be too flowy or sometimes too choppy. Maybe your character is using vocabulary that’s filled with too much company jargon. Maybe there are too many pauses. No matter what, you should always read your dialogue out loud.
An even better option is to read your dialogue out loud with a friend – to go back and forth so that you can hear the conversation play out. Of course, you have to have a friend with whom you’re comfortable showing your writing.
If you keep these tips in mind while you’re writing, then your dialogue should flow smoothly and help make your point to the audience. You might even create some memorable characters to use again.