Hello, lovely people! I’m sorry I’ve been missing in action yet again, but the life of an Irish dancing A.P. student in March is not a life with a lot of free time. It’s a sad fact, but a truthful one.
Now that I’m done whining, I want to talk to you about dialogue. One of the things I’ve noticed when reading young writers’ work is that sometimes people kind of...well… screw up the dialogue. Dialogue is conversation, not exposition. It’s not the place to give an entire back story.
And if you can’t remember the correct way to format dialogue, please, PLEASE, go look it up on Purdue Owl. I can’t tell you how distracting it is to read through a short story or novel where people don’t indent dialogue or use quotation marks. French people use dashes to set conversation apart instead of quotation marks and so do some super avant-garde British and American writers. In some books some of the dialogue won’t be in quotation marks. This may be used to create a certain tone or voice for a story and can work beautifully (I’m thinking of A Star Called Henry and An Invisible Sign of my Own), but I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you are positive you can do it in a way that will be coherent.
Once you’ve got the formatting down, it’s time to think about how realistic your dialogue is. I think the best way to do this is to listen to people talk. Pay attention to speech patterns. If listening to people in real life sounds boring, try listening to some books on tape.
For me, one of the best ways to get an ear for dialogue is watching movies, TV shows, a plays. BBC’s Sherlock does a wonderful job of creating witty, interesting dialogue and I would argue that The Office has some of the best conversations ever. If your piece take place in a historical period, try to read writing from that time or to find a period drama like Downton Abbey that can help you visualize and hear what that period was like. Make special notes of slang that’s relevant to your story-- I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t catch Lady Grantham saying YOLO.