I’ve been working diligently on my draft for a week now.  And one of the hardest things I’m finding out is that crafting dialogue so that it has a conversational tone can be really difficult.  You’d think that it would be easy since we speak to various people everyday.  Ah, but it isn’t easy.  And I’m finding that writing dialogue is harder than I thought it would be.

The first habit I had to break out of was my use of speech tags, other than she said (e.g. he explains and she agrees).  Since I’ve been mainly writing articles this was an easy habit to carry over into novel writing.  Thankfully, I didn’t get to far in my writing before I caught this problem.  It may be okay to find alternative ways to write ” Dr. X says” in an article.  But, using various tags in dialogue isn’t done, and when I thought about it I haven’t seen many variations of “said” in the books I’ve read.  I mean readers don’t need to see the word “agrees” in order to know that Character A in fact does agrees with Character B.  The dialogue alone should let the reader know what’s happening without the need for superfluous jargon and speech tags (aside from the commonly used he said/she said).

Although I didn’t plan on editing while I was writing my draft, I did take time to rework the dialogue that I already wrote.  And I was prompted to do so after my sister (who has a knack for performing onstage and memorizing her lines) suggested that I read my dialogue out aloud.  And when I did I had a serious reality check.  Ouch!  Listening to myself read the lines was like being in one of my elementary school plays all over again acting out some cheesy show riddled with generic lines.  I mean nobody really speaks that way–because it sounds rehearsed, unrealistic, and boring (yawn).

Here are a few tips I’ve learned to help me breathe life into my lines and draw readers into the conversations of my characters:

Listen UpHEAR ME !!!
Start paying attention to the way people speak because this will provide you with a good foundation for crafting dialogue that has a conversational tone.  Watching movies is also a great way to listen to speech. For instance, if one of your characters stammers watching the The King’s Speech can help you develop a realistic conversation that will add credibility to your character.

Break it Up
No, I’m not talking about a fight, at least not a real one.  Breaking up dialogue helps your readers to see the entire picture and not just the conversation between characters, which can become dry if it isn’t broken up with some action or descriptions that allows your reader to see the whole picture–the environment in which the dialogue is taking place.  And a fight may be one way to do that, especially if the fight occurs right before one of your characters is about to disclose some vital information.  But she is stopped short because she has to get out of harm’s way.

Profanity1Bleep You, No Bleep You
Using expletives in dialogue should be approached with some considerable thought.  The exchange of cutting words can make characters appear tough but you should decide on if and when you should use profanity in your book.  Because even in fiction the excessive use of “bleep you” (even if one of your characters is a dangerous criminal from Boston, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Departed) may alienate your readers.  So get creative and find an alternative way to say what you want that showcases your brilliant writing talents without losing the edginess that you’re trying to portray in your character.

Do you have any tips for writing realistic dialogue?