by Bonita Y. McCoy
Dialogue simply put is what the characters in a story say to one another. The back and forth flow of their words. Most new writers think that writing dialogue is easy. After all, we talk all the time. How hard can it be, right?
However, there is a huge difference between good dialogue and the typical conversations we hold every day.
One difference is where they start. Most new writers start their dialogue in the wrong place. They want to start at the beginning of the conversation like when you answer the telephone and say hello. But the reader is not interested in the everyday courtesies we use in our conversations. The reader wants to get to the meat of the dialogue.
As writers, we must determine the right place to start. Just like the scenes in our story, we want our dialogue to start as close to the important information as possible without it seeming unnatural. We don’t want any extraneous chatter, but we don’t want it to sound contrived either.
Good dialogue should move the plot forwarded by giving us information about the story or another character; or by creating tension in the scene; or by giving us a picture of the character who is speaking.
Another difference between good dialogue and typical conversation is filler words. Umm’s and Uh’s can be used to show hesitation on the part of a character, but if we wrote dialogue as we hear it out in the real world, our readers would die of boredom.
Good dialogue should be paced at a nice clip. You don’t want your dialogue to drag. Filler words slow down the pace of the scene and cause the reader to lose interest.
Again, we want our dialogue to sound natural and have a good rhythm but without all the speed bumps real conversations contain.
One other aspect of dialogue is the use of dialect, slang, or colloquialisms. As writers, we want to use the kind of language that everyone will understand.
Colloquialisms, sayings familiar to a specific area of the world, can distract the reader and pull them out of the story. Try to use sayings that are familiar to the larger audience.
With slang and dialects, a little goes a long way. If your character has an accent, you don’t have to mangle every word to make the point. Pick a few key words familiar to the audience as part of that areas dialect and use them. An example would be a southerner using “y’all” or an Irishman using the word “lass”.
The use of dialogue can be tricky, but with practice, dialogue can become one of the best parts of your story elements.