Writing good dialogue is more than getting the mechanics right. It is one of the most important parts of characterization. Here’s some things to remember when writing good dialogue.
Character:Your characters will determine how you write dialogue. Every person’s speech pattern is different and dialogue should reflect that. If your dialogue shows enough characterization, readers will often recognize the person speaking without the tags and identifiers. Here’s a few things to ask yourself when determining a speech pattern for a character.
Is it a male or female? Women tend to use more words and to talk emotionally where men are concise and logical.
What area of the country is your character from? If your character is from Ohio, he’ll call a soda drink pop. If he’s from Tennessee, he’ll call it coke.
Is the character educated? College graduates usually don’t say ain’t, but illiterate people or those who live in the country do. Also someone who has dropped out of school and joined a gang at age 15, probably wouldn’t know what some 3 syllable words mean no matter how smart he is.
What is your character’s background? Someone living in New York City probably wouldn’t use colorful country phrases unless he originally came from Alabama. Background makes a difference.
What is your character’s personality? Some people are shy and backward. They would use fewer words than somebody who is a vivacious leader. The leader is more likely to take charge of a situation and bark orders.
Dialect: A character’s background and education is likely to affect his dialect. It’s important to show that through dialogue. However one thing you want to avoid is to phonetically spell dialect. Hint at a person’s dialect, and the reader will automatically sound out the phonetic spelling. But if you spell the words phonetically, you’ll draw the reader away from the story and slow down his reading.
Speech Patterns: Use natural sounding speech patterns in your dialogue. Use contractions unless the characters are formal, educated, and historical. Everybody in today’s world speaks in contractions. Most of the time, you’ll want to use words like yeah and nope depending on the character. If your character is a dear old aunt who would say “oh, my” after hitting her thumb with a hammer, by all means, use it. If your character is a grizzly Vietnam Vet, you may not want him saying “oh my”. Use speech patterns that fit your characters.
No Info Dumps: Don’t use dialogue to give info dumps in the story. Here’s an example of a dialogue info dump.
“As you know,” Tom said “your father left you mother when you were only two years old.”
As you know is a dead giveaway. Why would Tom tell somebody about her father leaving her mother. She would know that better than Tom. Another example of this is if one police officer tells another police officer the procedure they follow when they’ve both been on the force for twenty years, or in a historical novel, one person tells another a fact that is common knowledge for that time period to inform the reader of the historical knowledge. This should always be avoided. Find another way to relay information.
Mimicking Speech: Even though you want dialogue to sound natural, you don’t want it to sound exactly the way people talk. If you did, you would add a lot of ahs, and you knows. Dialogue should sound good when read out loud. It should make the character articulate about what she wants to say in a way people rarely are.
Important to the Story: Everything we write should be important to the story and carry it along. That is true especially true of dialogue. Don’t have a conversation between your characters on what’s for dinner unless it’s important to the story.
Good dialogue is intentional like every other part of fiction writing.