We all know the importance of good dialogue in our writing, but how do we achieve it?
Well for me, good dialogue is all about ensuring our characters speak the way we speak and I don’t know about you, but when I talk I don’t tend to be very grammatically correct; in fact, I very much doubt most of us are. So why would we make our characters speak the Queen’s English, when the majority of real people don’t? Unless we’re writing about royalty in the first place, of course!
Take the following example:
Jane looked out of the window. “Oh no, it is looking rather cloudy outside,” she said. “I hope it does not rain. I have an appointment at the hairdresser’s this morning and this afternoon I am taking Charlie to the park. If it rains, my hair is going to be ruined.”
What class do you think this character is from? How do you picture both her and the room she’s standing in? What’s the view like outside the window?
Now what if I was to tell you Jane is a working class woman, living in a terraced house in the North of England and she’s actually looking out onto a back yard... The above dialogue doesn’t work, does it? In this context it feels unnatural, melodramatic even and it most certainly doesn’t fit with the character I’ve just described.
Here’s the example again:
Jane looked out of the window. “Oh no... it’s looking a bit cloudy,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t rain. I’ve got an appointment at the hairdresser’s this morning and this aft, I’m taking Charlie to the park. My hair’s gonna be ruined.”
Can you hear/feel the difference?
That’s because in real life we’re a lot more relaxed in the way we speak. We don’t pronounce each and every single word of what we’re saying, we have a tendency to run words into each other. So unless we’re really emphasising a point, a lot of the time ‘is not’ becomes ‘isn’t’, ‘I have’ becomes ‘I’ve’ and ‘does not’ becomes ‘doesn’t’... and so on. And in real life even when it comes to individual words said in full, we don’t always articulate these properly either. As in ‘going’ becomes ‘gonna’.
Of course, there are other things to consider when it comes to writing good dialogue, such as the need to avoid being too ‘on the nose’. Our dialogue needs to say a lot, without saying much at all – subtle rather than all out clear. A bit like when we ask someone if they’re ok only to be told they’re fine. Naturally, we know they’re not fine at all... So in other words, they’re showing us they have a problem, rather than telling us.