Writing Realistic Dialogue

DEVELOPING A GOOD EAR

Dialogue is the bearer of information, plot and characterisation. It performs a number of vital functions for the fiction writer:

♦ delineates character

♦ moves the story forward

♦ creates conflict, tension and suspense

♦ explains what happened in the past

♦ conveys emotion

♦ conveys the thoughts of the characters.

Perhaps most importantly of all, dialogue between your characters brings them to life in a way that no other writing technique can.

Hearing them speak

Until a character speaks, all their thoughts and emotions are portrayed through someone else's eyes, i.e. the narrator's.

The things a character says and the way they say them gives a much clearer insight into their character and allows the reader to make up their own mind as to what sort of person they might be.

Realistic dialogue gives immediate characterisation in a way that narrative simply cannot do. As a quick test, read through the following phrases and see who you think is speaking:

1. 'For goodness' sake get your hair out of your eyes and stand up straight when I'm talking to you.'

2. 'I can spare you five minutes but keep it brief.'

3. 'Hold my hand while we cross the road.'

Not only do we have an instant idea of the person speaking but we can also make an educated guess about their appearance and their expression.

For no. 1, for example, the image is immediately of someone in authority, a parent or teacher, and their expression is stern, their demeanour impatient.

By contrast, example no. 4 is probably smiling and is making an effort to be polite and friendly. He or she is almost certainly dressed smartly in order to make a good impression on a potential customer.

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