“Make the dialogue like the way real people talk.” –Some bad advice.
Why is this bad advice? In real life, I meet my bestie at a fine chicken-wings-n-beer establishment. We chit chat about weather, kids, men, vacations, health, work- the same stuff most friends talk about. We have a great time. If we were talking in a book, you’d drop that book like it’s a highly unstable radioactive Rubik’s Cube. The conversation is interesting to me but nobody else wants to read pages of what-I’ve-been-eating-for-breakfast-every-day.
The characters are individuals with their own agendas, beliefs, secrets, and desires. When they speak, it should be a delightful dance of action and reaction, opposition and tension.
If Sally wants to marry Barry, and Mable and Barry want Sally to marry Barry, there’s nothing interesting going on (unless Sally and Barry start arguing over the wedding décor, catering, etc.).
Now, if Sally wants Barry, and Mable wants Sally, and Barry doesn’t want to ever get married to anyone but his father demands he wed Eve to get his inheritance, that’s a powder keg of potential action and reaction.
- If the dialogue doesn’t set or reveal, it isn’t needed. By this we mean set tone and scene, or reveal character, information, or theme.
- When dialogue reveals something, hide it inside dialogue that’s built on opposition or heightened tension.
- If you can’t reveal something through dialogue, consider using exposition instead. This is the most appropriate use of exposition.
- Don’t let different characters sound exactly the same. Give them quirks, slang words they favor, or an accent if appropriate.
- Never have the characters discuss things they both already know, unless something about it has changed that would necessitate discussion.