Walk into any coffee shop in any city or town in North America and you are bound to find someone tapping away at a keyboard. The proverbial writer hyped on coffee writing the next bestseller. But did you know that us writers hang out in coffee shops for another motivation besides forcing ourselves to shower, dress and leave the house? We are listening in on conversations.
Yes, good writers mine for authentic dialogue by listening to conversations when people think our headphones are playing indie folk music. Here are the other ways you can develop your dialogue writing muscles to make every conversation in your book feel real and not contrived.
Ditch the Grammar
We don’t speak in perfect English so don’t bother writing your dialogue in perfect English either. We are repetitive, we say “um”, we don’t complete our sentences, and we use words that we’ve been conditioned to drop when writing prose such as: So, Like, You Know, Very, and Really.
Read it Out Loud
This is probably best done in the privacy of your own home and not in a crowded coffee shop. If you don’t like talking to yourself then round up a pet, better yet record yourself reading a passage of dialogue and see if it sounds true and authentic or if you are stumbling over the words as you read them. Make sure that your characters have a personality that shines through in the way they speak and the expressions they use.
While you don’t need to write he said she said after every line of dialogue, it is important that the reader not get lost in who’s talking. Adding a dialogue tag after every third or fourth line should suffice. The rule of thumb is to start each occasion of a person speaking on a new line enveloped in quotation marks. You can also avoid using he said if you describe what he is doing as he speaks. For example, Mark handed Christine the remote, “You choose what to watch. I’m going to bed.” This is an excellent article on the use of dialogue tags: https://www.novel-writing-help.com/dialogue-tags.html
Dialogue in Non-fiction
You can absolutely incorporate dialogue in non-fiction, either in the story sections of a self-help or how-to book where you are illustrating the pain-point and solution to your audience or as you develop a scene in your memoir. Don’t forget in either instance to create a full scene around your dialogue, as discussed in this blog post, to avoid talking heads in space.
I would love to know how you are incorporating dialogue in your writing and if it’s published in a blog share a link with me. In the meantime, may you enjoy overhearing some juicy conversations as you go about your everyday life.
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