I saw a memorable little quote earlier while browsing around.
If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll do, of course, is glance at the letters and see that it’s true. Both words do, indeed, share the same six letters. The second thing you might do is reflect for a moment on how important it is to remain SILENT and LISTEN to what others are saying.
Most of us, I’ve been told, don’t really listen to what others are saying because we’re too busy thinking about what we’re going to say next. I know from my own experience, that’s very true.
Learning to listen is a valuable skill for any individual in any field. It’s especially critical for authors who hope to create “realistic” dialogue. But…keep in mind, there’s a big difference between “realistic” and “real”.
The dialogue we write, the words we put into the mouths of our characters, serves many different purposes. It should move the story forward, provide information, show conflict, and reveal aspects of a character’s personality. Dialogue can also be used to establish setting, and to give insight into motivation. When contrasted with a character’s thoughts, dialogue can show hidden conflicts that will keep a reader turning the pages.
What dialogue shouldn’t do in a novel is waste the reader’s time. Yes, our real life speech is filled with meaningless garble, routine “how-do-you-do’s”, idle filler, and small talk. Exchanging pleasantries is part of the human experience when we meet, greet, and interact with others. We don’t need all the pleasantries in fiction-writing, though.
An excellent tip for writing dialogue is to READ IT ALOUD. Better yet, ask someone else to READ IT ALOUD to you while you keep silent and listen.
As you go about your day today, make it a point to listen to conversations around you. Notice the different qualities of speech, the tone of voice, the tempo, the rhythm. Describe the voices you hear. Are they harsh? Nervous? Authoritative? Consider the differences you hear in vocabulary, speech patterns, and grammar. What about the speaker’s attitude? How is that reflected in the words they speak?
An excellent writing exercise is to sit down at your desk at the end of the day and create a fictionalized account of a conversation you had with someone. Can you re-create their way of speaking and give them a truly distinct voice?
The ability to write good dialogue is a skill that can be developed. It begins with listening.