Do you look at your writing and wish you knew more ways to make the dialogue more natural? Or do you read what you’ve written and wished that you could tell characters apart so that you didn’t have to rely so heavily on dialogue tags?
This week’s post aims to give you two techniques you can try to help make your dialogue more natural! This builds on last week’s post, where we looked at ways to use dialogue to show the readers the action, instead of telling them what characters are saying.
I really struggled with writing dialogue when I first started. Everyone sounded like a version of me! It was really dull for readers, and I kept having to put in more description between the speech to make it more obvious who was talking.
Knowing it was a real weakness, I put in a lot of effort to learn how to write dialogue.
A good rule of thumb – If someone can read dialogue without needing speech tags then you’re on the right track! So here are my two quick ‘tips’ you can try to help make dialogue more natural. If you prefer listening to reading, then the video for this post is below. Otherwise, enjoy!
1 – Eavesdrop!
Normally you’d try and avoid listening in on peoples’ conversations but in this case you’re doing it as research. Head off to a coffee shop, or some other place where there are plenty of people and you can sit down.
You can do this in queues, or standing on a crowded commuter train. But you’re better off choosing locations where people are talking and you can sit down.
Enjoy a drink, maybe some cake, and note down any interesting snippets you hear.
- What cool or unique turns of phrase do people have?
- What nicknames do people give each other?
- Is the conversation each person taking their turn or do they talk over each other?
- Pay attention to hand gestures and facial expressions as they talk.
Start building a ‘swipe file’ of interesting lines or turns of phrase. Notice what phrases are paired with what gestures.
You might never use these particular lines in your writing but you can use them as inspiration. It’s a really easy way to make dialogue more natural. Adding in the gestures and expressions helps to bring the dialogue alive.
This is particularly useful if you write in a particular genre, and you can listen to how people in a relevant group talk. For example, listen to teenagers if you write YA, or engineers if you write steampunk.
Check out screenplays
Films and TV are set up to prioritise dialogue! Watch well-written films or TV to get a feel for how characters talk. A lot of the non-essential fluff is cut out anyway, so you can see how economic the writer can be.
The best screenwriters can remove the dull parts but still retain the essence of the characters. It’s even better if they become ultimately quotable!
If you write in a specific genre, then trying watching films or shows in those genres. As with eavesdropping, it’ll give you a clue as to how characters in those genres write.
You’re not looking to copy – you’re just getting a feel for how people talk within fiction.
For example. You never want to write a conversation as it actually plays out, with all of the sentences that go nowhere, the ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, or the repetition. It’s boring to listen to but it’s even more boring to read.
One final point. A friend asked me the other day if dialogue should contain contractions.
Examples of contractions include;
- “I’ve” instead of “I have”.
- “I can’t” instead of “I cannot”.
- “I’ll” instead of “I will”.
Short answer? It depends.
If you write historical fiction, read novels set in the period – ideally ones that were written in the period.
It’s something to bear in mind but it’s largely genre specific. Historical fiction will use more grammatically correct dialogue among the upper classes, but lower classes will talk in a less rigid fashion.
If you write other genres, then whether your character uses contractions will depend on their education and background. You can iron a lot of this out while designing characters.
Any info you can glean about your character will help make dialogue more natural!
I hope this has helped make your dialogue more natural, and leave any weird stuff you overhear in the comments!
If you enjoyed this post, then grab my recommended list of books, blogs, and podcasts for fiction writers below!
You can get more tips from James Scott Bell’s How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript (affiliate link).
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