The Third Pillar of a Story: Dialogue

Previously from the category On Writing

 

A Dialogue is the unique conversations within our favorite works of fiction. The beauty of a well-written dialogue is that it brings life to the characters on the page.

Great dialogue, when mixed with a riveting narrative and gritty description, can be the difference between a story that pulls the reader in to take them on a great adventure and a story that readers don’t reach the end of.

“But,” you may be asking, “What makes a good dialogue when writing a story?”

Thanks to a few hours of reading and making some well-informed notes of my own, I’ve come to realize that there is really only one cardinal rule when it comes to dialogue:

Be Honest About Your Characters’ Speech

When reading a story, don’t think of dialogue as just a simple conversation. It’s really a lot deeper than that.

For example, say a man and his ten-year-old daughter are talking over something rather whimsical. Would you want the daughter’s character to be viewed as vocally equal as her father when it comes to speaking back and forth?

Typically the answer is no. Unless you’ve set the foreground for the daughter being somewhat of a genius through some abnormality in your imagination and you want to convey that through how they speak, it’d probably be best to stick to how you would normally expect a character who’s ten to sound. Likewise, the father should sound like he’s talking to his daughter, not like he’s talking to another adult.

The result may look something like this:

 

“Oh-oh, ice cream! can we get some- please dad,” Anna shouted.

Roy’s eyes cut to the ice cream truck and he gave a brief chuckle, “Sweetheart, we can’t chase down the ice cream man, but, if you behave, we can get some once we get into town.”

“Why doesn’t the ice cream man have a store,” Anna asked.

“I guess he likes the song his truck plays too much,” Roy replied.

 

This is a simple example. The best ways of studying the difference between good and bad dialogue is to read often. While reading, ask yourself if the dialogue feels forced or if it feels natural. Writing good dialogue comes along after the guilty pleasures of reading good dialogue, which is like being a fly on the wall, eavesdropping a conversation. Bad dialogue, on the other hand, can be the equivalent to nails on a chalk board, forced and unpleasant to the ears.

Picking Up on Dialogue on a Daily Basis

Writing good dialogue is one of the many skills needed in order to write a good story, but some may ask how it’s developed. The real question to ask is whether or not you’ve been listening to how others speak in real life.

The key to writing good dialogue is hearing good dialogue.

The dialogue you write will be the collective of everything you’ve heard in other places throughout your life, which includes TV, video games, and books you read, and applied in a way that best suits the character you have.

Whether it’s a starship captain with a fatherly hue atop a commanding and gruff voice from the shouts of battle or even a farmer talking through straw in his mouth and mispronouncing words, giving your characters unique voices that fit in an audibly descriptive way will be the grace of an amazing story.

And…

Unlike developing a good sense of narrative and description, the dialogue is something that can be contorted to fit the characters’ voice for a reason. It is, after all, the most direct thing to show how your characters will interact with each other in the story. It’s for that very reason that each character should have their own unique voice that’s been crafted from the many years of experience you possess of listening to how others speak whether it’s to you, someone in a small circle you happen to be standing in, or maybe you’re eavesdropping.

Who am I to judge?

A Few Other Things to Remember…

First, the characters you create are yours and only yours. Some may be the culmination of certain characteristics of others, sure, but if you’re the one calling the shots as far as what your characters say and how they say it, make it unique. You don’t have to reinvent the English language, a dialect, or even an accent, but at the very least, avoid cliques at all costs.

Next, having the mental capacity to practice empathy towards others by putting yourself in their shoes can make a world of difference in both your writing and your general perspective on the world as a whole. Practicing such an act and committing it to the page can make a world of difference in the dialogue you write. Just ask yourself, ‘what would so and so say right now?’

And last, remember when talking in terms of imagination, your characters have a past, motives, outlooks, are dealing with problems, and carry a tune in their voice that represents their attitude. Some of these may change, but all in all they will stay conformed around general ideals and understandings.

Remember, dialogue writing can be fun when you’re honest. It can be satirical, brutish, helpful, or completely evil depending on the character, but at the end of the day it’s still a part of you, so make it unique and be honest about it.

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