I remember when my older brother watched a short film that I wrote and directed in college. The first thing he told me? "The dialogue sucks."
Being a persistent little writer, I plundered the shelves of Barns & Noble for the perfect book about writing dialogue...
I quickly discovered that it doesn’t exist.
It’s been several years since that happened and my dialogue has significantly improved. How did this happen?
I have no idea.
My only hypothesis is that the more you write, read, and watch (GOOD) movies, the more fluid your dialogue becomes. Some people have suggested that you can learn to write dialogue by recording and studying real life conversations. I’ve never tried this, but I can’t imagine that it works. Dialogue in fiction is a dance; heightened banter that you would never hear in real life.
Although I’ve never been able to find a quick fix, I do have a few simple tricks that seem to improve my dialogue between characters:
1. Answer questions with questions.
Generic responses like “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know,” are dull and can ruin the rhythm of your scene.
2. State the obvious with actions, not dialogue.
Instead of having a mother tell her son “I love you,” have her ruffle his hair and kiss him solidly on the forehead. Still a bit of a cliché, but actions can speak louder than words.
3. Have the characters interrupt each other.
Don’t overuse this trick! It can get annoying quickly.
Again, I’m no expert on writing, but consider those three tricks as you read an excerpt from my book, “The Accidental Siren.”
“Why did you invite me here?” I asked. “Those things you said...”
Mara gave me the first cracker. “I felt bad,” she replied. “I wanted to tell you that I didn't mean it.”
I nibbled the snack politely. “Then why--”
“It's what Aunty wanted.”
“Your aunt is weird. She sounded normal on the--”
“She's not my real aunt.”
“She just wants me to call her that.”
“Why? Who is she?”
“We sleep in the same room.” Mara nodded to the window, then popped a cheese-covered cracker in her mouth.
“She's in there now? How'd you sneak out?”
“I found a walkman on the ground a few months ago. It had a tape of me singing, so I kept it. When I play it while Aunty sleeps, she doesn't wake up. Sometimes I leave it on her pillow and sneak downstairs to watch ‘I Love Lucy’ on Nick at Nite.”
“Every Sunday she pulls out her wedding album and tells me the same stories over and over.”
“About her husband. He left.”
“Oh. Are all the pictures ripped like the picture I saw in the frame?”
“You're the first boy I've ever seen inside the house. Aunty hates them.”
“Oh. Do you hate boys too?”
Mara dipped her finger in the cheese. “They're just... gross.”
My last suggestion is to attend stage plays. If you can’t afford a night at the theater, rent movies or read books based on stage plays. “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “Closer,” “Doubt”; watch them over and over until the poetry of the words begins to affect your own writing.
With this tip, the methods that worked for me may not work for you!
YOU ARE READING
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