Creating dialogue in books and screenplays, to me is one of the most difficult (and at first, embarrassing) aspects of writing. I always felt very embarrassed when I first started writing dialogue because it is how you imagine your characters would speak and interact. You are giving the voice to the characters and it can be very easy to make them come across as cheesy, clingy and a few other negative adjectives.
Listen to how people speak in real life.
Try to pay attention to how people speak in everyday life. How do they open and close conversations? How long are their sentences? What kind of words do they use? You want to capture the organic flow of conversation and transfer it to the page. You might find that people are not overly formal in everyday conversations. They don’t open with “Hello, how are you?” instead they may open with “Hey, how ya doing?” or they might jump straight in with a question, if they are in a shop, for example, “Where do you keep the bread?”
The setting may have a lot of reflection on the dialogue.
If it is a gangland story set in London, there might be a lot of slang and cursing.
If it is a period drama involving royalty, there may be well-spoken and clean dialogue.
The time setting can have a great influence on the tone and vocabulary of the characters which is also something to consider.
Setting a story during a certain period in history might have an effect on the overall tone of dialogue between the people than inhabit the world.
A story set during one of the World Wars could have everyone from soldiers to civilians speaking with a sense of hopelessness, tiredness and bitterness towards the other side. Racism and sectarianism could play a key role not just in the dialogue but also feed in to the story as a whole.
Each character has a different voice
What I mean by this is that each characters personality should be reflected in their speech. If they are not very serious and a bit quirky, their dialogue might be funny or weird. A scary villain’s dialogue might be very direct with short sentences. It is up to the writer to convey this through their dialogue to reinforce personality traits.
If the character's dialogue is not on point, it may seem like a conflict. If they have been portrayed a certain way but it doesn't come across in their speech you might be in trouble. For example. If your character is an ex-marine, yet he speaks very eloquently and distinguished, it might alienate people, it might also not make sense story-wise.
Avoiding being too direct or ON THE NOSE
By this, I mean outright stating certain plot points, exposition or emotions. It is being very direct and telling the audience point blank.
This is a big mistake newcomers make in writing. There is an important saying known within writing circles which is “show, don't tell”. It effectively means you should only show the audience what you are trying to tell. This is especially true when it comes to film scripts (screenwriting). Trust your audience, give them the credit they deserve and let them figure out what you are trying to say.
Let me explain…
If your protagonist is in the police. It can be subtly dropped into conversation. A friend could ask him “how is the new case going?”. A stranger could act aggressively against them within a shop, calling them a slanderous name for cops like “Pig”. Be creative and think what could be said in a conversation to make the relationship to their background. But don’t just rely on dialogue to achieve this, use action too.
You could also slowly drop the hints to indicate this instead of outright stating it. He could leave his badge and gun on the table when he gets home, he could turn off the radio still strapped to his uniform.
With emotions, the tone of the conversation is important. Are the parties raising their voices at each other? Is the conversation passive-aggressive? Is there an elephant in the room between them that neither one wants to address? Keep constantly asking yourself questions. To make it interesting for your readers, it must first be interesting to you. To add to the dialogue, be mindful of where they are within the setting, are they moving, sitting, standing. Are they moving around or doing things in between their exchanges? It may add to the scene overall.
Instead of stating that “Jane felt like crying” you could elaborate by showing small physical changes or movements. “Jane slumped over in her chair, letting her gaze fall to the floor beneath her. She rose her hands up to cover her face as it turned red and the first tear escaped her eyes”.
Dialogue is a craft that can be continuously be improved upon. It can be a tough nut to crack but once you get a hold on it, you can use it in a lot of creative ways to progress your story or manipulate your audience.
Hailed as the king of dialogue when it comes to films, watching Quentin Tarantino’s films may help you gather further insight as well as just reading more.
Focus on how other writers use dialogue and what way does it differ from character to character, writer to writer.
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