Dialogue is hard.
Think about it. You make up these imaginary people and put them in crazy situations and see what they do. And then you realize that since real people talk to each other, these imaginary ones need to, too.
And you’re just like, crap.
Dialogue comes more easily to some people than others; for example, people who are very observant can be amazing at dialogue, mostly because they pick up on and remember all the little quirky things people do while they’re talking. We all know that people don’t just stand and talk. That’s unrealistic. Instead, people stand and sit and chat and blink slowly or quicker when they’re nervous. They look up at the ceiling when they’re deep in thought. They stare at they’re shoes when they’re embarrassed. They’ll compliment the appropriate phrases with hair flips or by biting their lip of fiddling with the hem of their shirt.
Conversation is complicated.
To write intriguing, snappy dialogue, you first have to decide how you want to pace the conversation. This is huge. For example, an argument might start out slow and then explode. A battle of the wits or exchange of insults might be fast and noir-esque, like two black and white gangsters chatting it up. A conversation before a first kiss might be slow and awkward.
The key to writing great dialogue is thinking how your characters would think. For example, one of my characters, Magnolia, is a shy, 15-year-old inventor who doesn’t feel very comfortable around anyone except for her childhood friend, Liam. Liam is a nerdy gamer boy who hacks computers for his older sister’s monster hunting team. Though Magnolia is normally extremely polite and wordy and Liam is casual and uses a lot of slang, when they’re together their interaction will be different.
If you’re stumped on a dialogue scene, just ask yourself the following questions.
1. What kind of conversation is this? (Angry, casual, awkward, on-edge, scared, etc.)
2. How do these characters normally talk? (Do they use slang? Are they loud or quiet, chatty and exuberant or annoyed and quiet?)
3. How do these characters interact? (Do they get along well? Maybe not? How close are they?)
Here’s some example of casual, chatty dialogue from my novel Secret Nemesis.
They all piled into the car. Sonyo slid into the driver’s seat, waved at the two figures standing on the porch once more, and pulled out of the driveway.
“Now, this here,” he said, patting the dash, “Is Ruby. She’s my getaway car.”
From the passenger’s seat, someone cleared her throat.
“Nice, Sonyo,” she said, and Anae could hear her barely-concealed British accent, “Introducing your car before your twin sister. Very classy.”
Sonyo sighed in a manner that was obviously meant to be over-exaggerated. “Sorry, sis. Guys, this is my twin sister, Inessa.”
Inessa Wolfe turned around in her seat to face them. Evie, who was sitting in the front with Carmen, saw that she, much like her brother, had stunning Eurasian features. Her hair was strait and chestnut, cut to her shoulders, with blunt bangs that barely brushed her eyebrows.
“I prefer to be called Nessie, actually, as my brother already knows.”
“Ah, you know I love you, sis.”
“Be quiet, Sonyo-kun.”
Anae looked curious. “Are you Japanese?”
Nessie nodded. “Half Japanese-”
“-and half Brit,” Sonyo finished, “She was born in Japan, raised in England. I was born in England, and…”
“…Raised in England. Really, Sonyo-kun, don’t bore them.”
Sonyo had pulled out onto a worn country road. “The worst part is,” he said, glancing into the backseat by way of the mirror, “She lived in Japan for the first ten years of her life, so she says stuff like this and I don’t know she if she’s insulting me.”
“I might be,” said Nessie conversationally.
“Anyway, it’s only a half-hour drive to the nearest TransCurrent. We’ll be there in a jiffy.”
Carmen looked puzzled. “You keep talking about these TransCurrent things. What exactly is a TransCurrent?”
“Ah, you’ll find out,” said Sonyo, “Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”
“Don’t go all mysterious on the, Sonyo. That’s Severin’s job.”
Sonyo laughed. “Has he been treating you alright? No torture, threats…”
“Threats of torture?” suggested Nessie.
Everyone, including Magnolia, laughed. After a full day of waiting in suspense, it was nice to have the agony of nervous pacing broken by a good laugh. Evie was starting to like the Wolfe twins.
“Not yet,” said Anae.
And last but not least…
THE EASIEST WAY TO GET GOOD AT DIALOGUE.
Step one: Set your iPod to “record” on the Voice Memos app. Then start recording random conversations without the other person knowing. Review these later for use as inspiration; you’ll be surprised by how helpful it is. Alternatively, if you’re short a recording device, try sitting in a public area and jotting down the conversation between two strangers.
Quick tip: Don’t get caught.
It’s also nice to keep a notepad with you so you can record quippy movie lines, deep thoughts from books, or hilariously out-of-context overheard’s that you might want to remember.
Any thoughts on writing dialogue? Comment below!