Hey, guys! I’m popping by today (tonight, if I’m being truthful) to say a few words on dialogue. Nothing too extensive, just a tip or two to keep in mind.
So, in a book, dialogue between people can’t happen like it happens in the real world. I mean, apart from the fact that you can’t have your characters say ‘um’, stutter, or repeat the same word(s) (or repeat the same word(s)) like everybody in real life dialogue does when talking, you must always remember to move toward whatever point the dialogue is trying to make. Furthermore, really good dialogue conveys information to the reader without having to rely on narration. Make sense? If you were to hear two people carrying on a conversation on the street or in the mall or in a café, it would probably sound something like this:
“Yeah, so after that I told her, like, just no.”
“You said that?”
“Yeah! What else was I gonna say? She just made me so…ugh!”
“I know, I know, but to be that way about it? C’mon, you could’ve had her just—”
“No, no, you don’t know how it was. Right there, I seriously thought my brain would start oozing or something. And it’s not the first time!”
“I hear you.”
“Like, my blood was seriously close to bubbling or whatever.”
“And I’m not usually like that, you know? I’m not!”
“But she just…man!”
As you can see, this dialogue is going nowhere and tells you nothing other than person #1 is upset with someone and is telling person #2 about it. Well, I say about it, but you don’t really know what it is, do you? This is what I meant by written dialogue can’t be like real life spoken dialogue, because you’d lose your readers the moment your characters started talking! Now most of you are probably thinking, Fool! We know this already! To which I’ll say, Great! I await reading some of your character dialogue! If you know this, good for you, but lots of folks, especially first time writers, don’t grasp this truth at first. Your dialogue can be as witty or prosy or artistic as you please, but if it doesn’t move anywhere it is a waste. You’re allowed more leniency in this when it comes to description, but dialogue is a tricky thing. Here’s the same conversation from above revisited as it might be written:
“Yeah, so after that I told her I was done. That was the last time.”
“You said that?”
“What else was I gonna say? She’s been on that stuff for too long. I don’t want to be caught up in that. This is drugs we’re talking about!”
“Well, yeah, but to be so mean about it? You could’ve—”
“Look, you weren’t there, you didn’t see her. But you do know that this isn’t the first, second, or third time! Seeing her like that, again, and arguing with her about getting the help she needs was infuriating! I refuse to fight with her about her own problem for the rest of my life.”
Katlyn didn’t say anything, but nodded her head in reluctant understanding.
Joyce shrugged and sighed. “So that’s it. I’m done.”
See the difference? The overall dialogue has been lengthened just a bit for the purpose of flow, but what were the big changes that made it readable? It moved forward, it conveyed information and key points through itself, and it was able to present, to a degree, the sentiments of both Joyce and Katlyn without resorting to the narration to do so. You weren’t told that Joyce was angry and frustrated and Katlyn was surprised at it, that was conveyed through the dialogue. And through that brief exchange, you even learned something about an unnamed third character.
So there you have that. Just a little something to keep in mind when you’re writing conversations between your own characters. It’s such a valuable truth to keep in mind, and it saves so much time in the editing process later. (Trust me, I know.)