Make It as Real as Possible: How to Write Good Dialogue In Fiction.
Benoit Lelièvre from Dead End Follies once said of my work that, “Truman is at his best when people talk.”
I do believe that speech is one of my strong points. I probably can’t spell that well and grammar is a never-ending nightmare to me, but dialogue makes everything worthwhile as far as I am concerned.
I love to listen to how people speak. I love to emulate how “the rest of us” speaks. We really suck at languages. Most of us have shitty grammar to start with. We are flawed. Nearly none of us have a degree in literature or creative writing. I mean, look at me. I graduated even with my slang/working class English because what’s really important is not whether the way you speak/write is correct accordingly to Oxford and the school of Chicago. What’s important is if it represents who you are/where you are from at a certain point in time.
I love slang, because most people love slang. I’m not a fan of “proper” English or civilized dialogue. The stories I write are the stories of people right here, down to earth, who live the daily grind of modern life for better or worst. Sure, I put my characters through situations that may occur only once or twice in their lifetime, but I am trying to tell a story here, right?
As far as dialogue is concerned, I believe that if you want to make it good, you have to make it as realistic as possible and “stay out of the way” as an author. Let them speak and do include all the “wrong words” and the “small words” people use in their daily conversations. The yeah, sure, nah, right! why?, come on, are you serious, meh, so?” are important for a reason. This is especially true if the dialogue is mostly a monologue.
When you speak to someone in your everyday life, those small words are used to pace the discussion. You might not even realize it. They keep the one who speaks the less involved in the conversation on a psychological level. It also tells the one who speaks the most that the other person is interested in what they are saying. Most of all, it feels natural: we all do it. So your characters should do it as well.
Another way to make it more realistic is to “pace” your dialogue. Of course, you need to do it with subtlety (and I still feel I’m not subtle enough). It’s something you should be aware of. Make your characters hesitate when it’s appropriate. Stop a sentence in the middle of it, the same way we hesitate sometime when we speak. Do it well, but do it. It adds to the natural flow of conversations. You can also pace your sentences with a little bit of action, or a well-placed “he said/she said” (as little as possible) when you need the speech to slow down a little.
When you want that seen to “speed up” you just put people in context and let the reader fill the rest of the surroundings in his/her mind: just let the characters talk. When you talk to someone in real life, if the discussion is any interesting, then you zone out of your environment and your brain focuses solely on the discussion, a novel works just the same way.
Try a few things out if you want to exercise. Take the metro (I’m sorry, subway) or go to the farmer’s market and try to hear people around you, not necessarily one discussion specifically, but see how they fill the air and add to the place you’re in. If you can duplicate that sentiment on the page through your dialogue, you’re ahead of the rest of us.
Genre - Literary, Coming of Age
Rating – PG13
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