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Sticking Point: Dialogue

14 February 2011

Two things I’ve been doing a lot of lately: reading and writing. I know, right? I just keep dropping shocking revelations at this blog, don’t I?

One thing I’ve noticed that’s hard to do well is believable dialogue. There are offenders in every genre, of course, but I’ve been seeing it a ton lately in sci-fi and fantasy. Part of that, I think, is the nature of the beast: objectively speaking, your characters might end up sounding a little silly when talking about neutrino lasers or the Flaming Sword of Nreth’Nul (yeah, I made those up on the spot).

Still, one good piece of advice I’ve heard many times is to write like people talk, or even how you talk. My own speech patterns are kind of a mess, a mishmash of Army Ranger and Navy SEAL slang loaded up with pop-culture references and made-up words and pronunciations, but I do often listen to how normal folks speak. It’s nowhere near as dramatic and stilted as a lot of the dialogue I see in books and on TV.

“But wait!” you say, clutching your copy of The Hunt for Red October to your chest. “I’m writing a Special Forces techno-thriller, and my main characters have their own specialized way of talking!”

To which I say, excellent point. But that’s less about speech patterns than it is about jargon and slang. Try writing your characters’ dialogue without any of that first — without the specialized terminology — then read it back to yourself. Do they sound like real people? Good. Go on back, replace a term or two, and you should be golden.

Any tips from you folks on writing good dialogue? I’d love to hear them!

One Comment leave one →
  1. 22 February 2011 0844

    The best way I’ve found is to just simply read it aloud. Bounce it off someone who doesn’t know the story. If they say, “so you’re writing a Tolkien-esque story about elves,” you’re probably not doing it right, unless you ARE writing a Tolkien-esque story about elves, in which case, you probably just forgot to never do that.

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