Less Is More

The third most common mistake when writing dialogue is everyone usually writes monologues or long-winded speeches. When writing dialogue remember: Less is more! Make each word count by avoiding all the meaningless chit-chat. And realize that people talk with interruptions, with hesitations, in monosyllables, with grunts, "er's," "oh's," "ah's," sighs and pauses.

In reality people are usually so busy thinking about what they want to say, they rarely wait long enough to let the other person finish speaking. And when they finally speak, what they say very often has nothing to do with what has just been said. One person may begin talking about a subject, while the other person doesn't respond to what was said, but will start going on his or her own tangent.

Pay attention to the way people converse in your daily life. Become a listener, as difficult as that may be. Stop, look and listen! The only way to make your dialogue sound realistic is to listen to people talking wherever you are and note it in your writer's journal. By doing this you will raise your awareness to how people really talk and mostly how people don't listen!

In writing dialogue you want to give each character a unique voice to keep them from all sounding the same. One approach to finding a voice for your character is an external one. If you're having quite a bit of trouble getting into your character's head, try to discover his or her voice from your memory, thinking of a particular person or a composite of several people from your past who remind you of this character.

Make the Dialogue Fit the Characters

Then find the best adjective you can for this character. What word best describes his or her overall personality? If you've already chosen the best adjective from the assignment in a previous chapter, then take the adjective and think in terms of dialogue. If the adjective you chose was arrogant, then make the dialogue alive with arrogant phrases and rejoinders.

Maybe you have words like "charming, surface, smooth, friendly, glib." Although these words all sound similar, each adjective represents a special characteristic, which would then become dominant with that character's voice and that attitude would express itself through the dialogue. But don't make all your characters sound glib. Use this attitude for just a specific character.

After you've settled on the best description then go into your past and think of someone you know who is similar to this character or who resembles some aspect of his or her personality. Concentrate on how he or she walks, mannerisms, behaviors, gestures and the way he or she communicates. What does the character sound like when he or she speaks? Is the voice melodious, does he or she speak quickly, make eye contact when speaking? Does the character talk in a booming voice or whisper? What are the rhythms of his or her words? Once you answer all of these questions and others you'll start to quiet your own voice from the character's and begin to give him or her a "voice that will ring true," to the character.

One of the assignments I've given my students is to listen to people talking, and to overhear as many conversations as they can in banks, restaurants, on the bus, at work, in bars, anywhere at all. You can do the same by using your life situations as an opportunity to master the craft of realistic dialogue.

After completing the assignment they discovered that people don't talk in long speeches. They don't get the chance. In fact, most people love to talk about themselves more than anything or anyone else, so they can't wait for the other person to finish speaking before they interrupt them.

Dialogue should create emotional conflict between your characters and develop tension between them that leads to some new action being taken on the part of your characters. Dialogue must be dramatic. It is best used when it creates arguments, fights, and explosions of emotion between your characters. When you write dialogue, always create conflict and tension, and you'll never lose your audience's interest.

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