First, and foremost, read authors who have mastered dialogue and dialect: James Joyce (if you can cut through the Irish dialect), Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Walter Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain are but a few. Contrary to popular belief, reading these great pieces of literature rubs off. Read enough of these legendary masters and writing well becomes a habit. The once awkward division between story line and rhetoric will engross the reader.
Another useful pointer is being aware of one’s surroundings. Listen and make note of how people talk to one another in the grocery store, the post office, the neighborhood service station, local bars, etc. If we’re constantly on our cell phones or listening to music on our iPods, we’re missing it. There’s an abundance of chat and banter at any place, our city, USA. One need only listen and remember, or jot them down in a trusty notebook—like I do.
Notebooks come in all sizes. Keep one in the car, one in the bathroom, one in the bedroom for late night ideas, and one in a purse or pocket. How many times has an idea blown into our thoughts and disappeared within the whirlwind of our day-to-day grind? It’s happened to me more times than I care to count.
I know most everyone has an iPad, a tablet, or a laptop; but how often is writing in it convenient and/or appropriate? Most ideas pounce at the most inopportune moments: a business meeting, at the gas pump, in one of the lines we find ourselves stuck in every day.
Don’t let life get in the way. Think of the daily goings-on as great material.
Lastly, reread what’s been written multiple times, and read it out loud. How does it sound? Does the piece flow without any distinction when a character(s) speaks? Can readers tell there’s a break in the continuity? Can readers tell who’s speaking?
Using “he said; she said” continually is boring and distracting, but leaving it out for too long gets the reader lost, and eventually they become disinterested. Timing is key. Balance is essential.
Following these tips will have you writing good dialogue in no time.
If time allows, leave a comment telling us a little bit about your experiences writing dialogue.