Dialogue

It’s not always easy to write great dialogue. It gets harder if you’re writing with a dialect. Here are a few very basic tips for how to write good dialogue.

There’s a balance to be struck between how it would really sound if you heard it spoken by a real human, and how it needs to sound to read well. Reading it out loud is a good way to hear whether you’ve caught that balance. If it sounds all right to your ear–which has been trained by movies and television as much as by actual speech–then it’s probably fine. Better if you have someone else read it out loud, or hear you do so. Ask humbly for their opinion and then take it graciously, whatever it may be. That is your only hope for continuing to have readers to give you opinions.

It’s also helpful to listen carefully to those around you. How do teenagers talk? Differently from adults. How do people of a different social strata from your own speak? How about those originally from a different country? Those speaking with a dialect from the inner city, the south, the east coast? It’s best to go and listen to such a group talking amongst themselves, if possible. If that’s not possible, next best is watching a movie or show with that sort of character, although it can be hard to pick which one is a good one.

It’s also useful to read an author who is good at dialect and dialogue. One good example is Donald Westlake, who is able to show you where in New York a person came from by the way they speak, like Henry Higgins in London. There are many authors out there doing it very well. And it never hurts to read!

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