Real life exercises practiced by the author will jump start the dialog blocks in any writer.
As a writer of fiction, I know first hand just how hard it can be to create believable, engaging dialogue. As a reader of fiction, I also know how frustrating it is to read a sloppy, ill put together string of dialogue interactions, and how I can’t help but lament to myself, “Poor writer! He must have tried really hard.” While I can’t claim to have perfected the art of dialogue, I can say that if you want help, I can give what I know.
When writing dialogue, a writer should always try to keep these three ideas in mind: one, make sure what your writing can be spoken in a real life conversation. Two, make sure that the dialogue is true to your character and the descriptions of your character that you have provided for the reader; and three, remember that your reader must identify with your character through dialogue and your character’s actions making it only normal that you should get new inspiration for conversation from your audience. If the dialogue feels strange, don’t hesitate to rework it (I guarantee that if you don’t, your reader will notice).
In my experience, I find that whispering or speaking the piece of dialogue that I am working on helps to shape it into a realistic fictional conversation. For example, say I have a character that is trying to say that she’s hungry. The words she uses must be able to be used comfortably by my audience. More often than not, if I can say it, my audience can to. Here is a not so good way to tie in the dialogue:
“My stomach’s growling.” Here is a better way:
“I know a great restaurant not too far from here. Why don’t we continue this conversation there?” The difference between the two is that in the first scenario, the second party in the conversation is thrust into an awkward situation that can and will be felt by the reader. The second scenario keeps the conversation light and the tone relaxed. The reader actually wants to know what the second party is going to say and has even guessed that the answer will be in the affirmative.
Here is a helpful exercise that you can always do when you get stuck in your writing. Go to the start of the conversation and get ready to be flexible and use your imagination. Now, whisper the word you have written, carefully taking note that each phrase is true to the character speaking them. Work your way through the entire dialogue until you get to the end. If at any point in this exercise you find yourself irked by an awkward flow of words, stay there, say it again, then say it a different way until it fits right. Above all, get comfortable whispering to yourself as you write and edit. In the long run, it will help you to improve your dialogue instincts.
One of the most disturbing occurrences in dialogues is when the author suddenly throws a different way of speech on a familiar character. Now, as horrible as it sounds, it is very easy to slip into. I’ve found that rereading previous dialogue by the character and creating an extensive mini-character sketch helps keep me on the right track. Below are a list of questions that will assist in helping you to create your character sketch.
Now when you find yourself straying from your character’s normal vein of speech, you can pull out your sketch and get back on track in a little less than ten minuets!
Knowing your audience goes beyond just knowing what they like and what they do. It delves into knowing their emotions, being familiar with their trends in thought, keeping a finger on the pulse of their conversations, and knowing what shifts in facial features mean what.
Knowing your character means being intimate with your audience in the head/instinct knowledge sense. My advice is to get out there and people watch. If you don’t have time, do it at work while you work. Or eat lunch at a park, or in a mall, or maybe in a restaurant and listen to the conversations around you. Note body language and conversations beneath the conversation.
Focus on your audience, if you are writing mainly for golfers, go where golfers go. If you are writing for teens, check out the local hangout spot. Pick up useful phrases and sentences that you might want to rework and use in your writing (write them down if you must).
When it’s time to write, pull out your pad or revisit the conversations in your mind and let “er rip! You”ll find that your dialogue will dramatically improve.
Above all, have fun. Remember why you began writing; always keep your goal in mind. For authors out there in the daily struggle with dialogue, let me encourage you; it won’t always be painful.
One day creating believable dialogue will be second nature and you won’t have to fight to call up the flow of easy dialogue, and when the writer’s block hits, you can pull out the list! Remember, have fun! I wish you the best!