In this post, I’ll be expanding upon my Writing Believable Dialogue post.
I would, therefore, suggest reading that first, if you haven’t already.
I can’t emphasize enough that believable characters are the heart of great fiction.
Other elements, such as story structure, are important, but strong characterisation is essential. And, without convincing dialogue, you won’t have believable characters. That’s why I consider this subject sufficiently valuable to revisit.
It’s important, in general, to avoid exposition in dialogue.
Many writers will attempt to convey backstory via dialogue, but this rarely comes across as natural.
However, there’s one circumstance in which this can actually work: arguments. It’s important to include conflict in your stories, and although not all of this conflict will be in the form of rows between your various characters – well, arguments are bound to be in the mix, right?
In real life, arguments are very much a time when accusations are flying:
“And what about what you said, on Julie’s wedding day?”
“Well, how about what your mum said to my sister, last Christmas?”
“Aren’t you forgetting the time you…?”
Okay, you get the idea. Basically, people hurl anything and everything at each other, when tempers are high, so take advantage of this, as a writer.
In my Believable Dialogue post, I mentioned the overuse of character names in dialogue.
I still find myself doing this, and having to remove name tags, as part of the revision process.
One specific problem I find is that many of my characters are known by more than one variation of their name, used interchangeably. Some examples, from my WIP: Lucy/Luce, Catherine/Cath, Matthew/Matt, and Charlotte/Charlie. This tends to result, in my experience, in the inclusion of more name tags, in total.
There’s no obvious way to avoid this, other than limiting the number of characters, within any one story, who are routinely known by multiple versions of their names.
It really is worth paying attention to this. Listen intentionally to real life conversations, as these provide useful comparisons. It’s surprising how seldom we actually use each other’s names, during real interactions.
I mentioned this before, and will repeat: Said is not dead.
It’s time to get past this myth. I still occasionally come across infographics on Pinterest, providing extensive lists of “said alternatives”, most of which make me cringe.
Whilst there are some viable alternatives, less “exclaiming”, “confessing”, and “admitting” will make your writing sound more stylish. “Said” is an invisible word, and does its job.
Not every line of dialogue requires an attribution at all – particularly the case when a conversation involves only two characters.
Action tags can be useful but, as with every other device, some writers overdo these. They serve a purpose, and can be used effectively, but don’t use them too often.
If in doubt, keep it simple, and go with the functional, unobtrusive “said”.
Hopefully, these tips, along with those in my related post, will help you to improve the quality of your dialogue.
Creating realistic dialogue is vital, because without it, as I mentioned, you simply won’t have realistic characters.
But the good news is that it often only takes a minor tweak here and there, during the revision and editing process, to make a significant difference.