I have been working on revising my current WIP and have been focusing on how to write effective dialogue. If you listen to a real-life conversation you will notice that it rarely matches the dialogue written in novels. In a real-life conversation sentences are clipped as we talk across each other and most of the time use non-verbal cues for communication. Dialogue in a novel is used to fulfill one of two very distinct goals:
- To provide plot or character information.
- To develop characterization and build the depth of your characters.
Good dialogue develops and establishes characters. Characters need to speak differently from one another. Give your characters a verbal tic—“Ya, know.” Have one character refer to dad as Dad and another call him Pops. Consider that characters may have different vocabularies with different people. A polished lawyer will speak one way in court, but when he goes home to the bayou, he’d speak differently.
Dialogue describes conflict, setting, and characters. Rather than writing, Angela was the kind of woman you couldn’t trust, have one of your characters say, “Look out for Angela. That girl will stab you in the back and then accuse you of carrying a concealed weapon.” Also consider that what is not said in dialogue is just as important as what is said.
Dialogue can control the pace of the story. To speed up the story, use short sentences with few action beats. This will give you a lot of white space on the page and create a feeling of fast motion. To slow down the pace of a story, put action beats, thoughts, or description into the story.
Avoid using dialogue as an information dump: “Edward, I know you’re sensitive about people questioning your motives because of that incident that happened to you in high school when the principal misunderstood why you were leaving the campus early.”
Dialogue is more than a way to express your character’s words—it’s a way to express the world you’re inviting your readers to enter.