Is this becoming a trend? Whenever I think of some grass-roots rule that some utterly clueless writing aspirer should know about, I make a half-baked blog post about it and slap “A Complete Buffoon’s Guide” on the front? Heck yeah, “content” baby!
Despite my infinite chagrin and cruel displeasure at not being able to make my introductory paragraph four lines long, we’re back this fine Tuesday with another blog post. Hopefully you’ve recovered sufficiently from my bad YouTube comedy routine to witness another of my dangerous exploits when it comes to attempts at humor. (Insert dad joke here)
Ahem. Here I’ll pretend to insert an intelligent and thought-out transition to the topic at hand. Today we’re discussing dialogue, but only the most basic building blocks thereof. If you’re a complete klutz when it comes to writing dialogue, then this guide is for you. (I actually enjoy writing these “one foot in front of another” guides. It gives me the opportunity to think about things in ways I never had before)
The number one rule/goal to keep in mind is this: the only thing dialogue serves to remind us of is the characters, setting, and plot. If your reader is thinking about the cleverness of the author after an excellent line of dialogue (or disgust after a particularly cheesy one, at that) then the reader is getting the wrong idea. The more the reader sees the author’s hand, the less and less the story is believable. And believability (or verisimilitude) is core for creating what we consider good writing.
In short, your dialogue should sound exactly as if this conversation took place between two characters. But I can already hear the objections: “But Ghalta, real dialogue never sounds so neat!” Which is why you have to follow the pattern of dialogue more so than the actual dialogue.
I’ll explain. When you walk over to your homie to start a conversation, how would you open up? “Hey, John. Well golly, you sure look glum. Gee, what’s the matter?” Eh, probably not (unless you’re Goofy) Regardless, whoever the character is, they need to perform their lines completely…well, in character.
Which leads me to my next point: your dialogue will only be as believable as your characters. Writing Believable Characters for Utter Idiots is a blog post for another day, but I’ll give you a quick two-sentence crash course now: Give us characters the reader can easily understand and relate to, and are ultimately simple under all the layers they may or may not have. Honestly consider said character’s mannerisms, tone of voice, quirks, and discrepancies, so you can have said details influence dialogue.
On to the next topic: the actual sound of dialogue. A lot of people like to put flowery dialogue in their scripts, justifying it by saying that “it’s in a certain time frame /language/region/someotherrandombullcrap”. Let’s have none of that: cut your dialogue down to the bare bones. Gratuitous dialogue or unnecessary words should have no place in your story (except scantly used by certain personages, but first learn the basic rules so you can break them like a pro).
If this leaves your dialogue sounding somewhat contemporary, so be it. If you can strike a balance between your dialogue not sounding anachronistic yet contemporary enough to go unnoticed, you’ve hit the jackpot. But if you’re consciously crafting every portion your dialogue to sound “immersive”, you’ll turn out a pretty clunky first draft to be sure. If writing a certain character’s dialogue is clunky for you, stand back and consider why: is it because you’re consciously trying to make the wordplay sound more connected to the world? Is it because the dialogue’s difficult for you to think up? Either way, dialogue should come easily to you.
So what if dialogue doesn’t come easily to you? For one, you need to read more books. You won’t be good at writing books if you’re not a bibliophile. Whoever heard of a mechanic who always wanted to make Lamborghinis all the while secretly dreading to ever have to drive one? Or a “passionate” pizza chef who really doesn’t have much interest in pizza? If you want to be a writer, you’ll love books. You either don’t read because you don’t have time, or you do read because you’ve made time for reading. Either way, you need to read more.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!