Dialogue is not everyday talking. The Authors Collection.
September 29, 2013
James R. Callan
Recently, I read an article on the Internet about writing dialogue. It said writing dialogue is not as hard as you think. Go to some crowded spot and just listen for a couple of hours. Then, grab your computer and enter some of the stuff people were saying. It’s that simple.
Writing dialogue for a novel is not simple. And for the average writer, it is not easy. Probably it was simple for Elmore Leonard, generally considered a master of dialogue. Even for Leonard, maybe it wasn’t when he started out as a writer. To simply copy what people actually say in conversation is not likely to produce great “novel dialogue.” The dialogue in your novel must be better than the “real” dialogue you hear between people.
Here is a conversation you might hear when two women meet at the post office. (I’ve crossed out the fluff.)
“Hi, Mary. How’re you doing?”
“Good. And you?”
“Things are great.”
“Glad to hear that. Been to any good movies recently?”
“No. Too busy getting the kids ready for school.”
“Oh, it is getting close to that time of year, isn’t it.”
“Too close; too fast.”
“Isn’t that the truth.”
“Have you seen Joan lately? I’ve called and gone by and I never can catch her.”
For a novel, you might want to use only the part I have not crossed out. “Hi, Mary. Have you seen Joan lately? I’ve called and gone by and I never can catch her.”
Gone is the fluff. Unless you are trying to make some special point, cut it out. If this is a suspense or mystery, the novel dialogue wants to get right to the point. What has happened to our friend?
However, there are some things you can learn from that exercise of listening to people in some public space. One is that people do not always speak in complete sentences. They do not worry about tense. They ignore many grammar rules. You can also learn about the cadence and inflection people use. What is the rhythm of the conversation?
You might be able to pick up some of the regional dialect, or words specific to the region. You can gain some ideas on how people emphasize certain words or phrases. It is also a good time to see what body language they use to get their point and their feeling across to the listener.
Much can be learned from listening to conversations in public places. You may pick up some key phrases, vocabulary, and other ideas. But keep in mind that the dialogue you put in your novel needs to be better than what you hear on the street. It needs to be leaner, stronger, and more distinctive.
It must be novel dialogue, not every day talking.
Please click the cover image to read more about James R. Callan and his novels on Amazon. He wrote the book on creating real dialogue for novels.