Learning how to write great dialogue includes learning how to listen to people engaged in conversations of all sorts, watching movies, reading novels, plays and screenplays noted for their excellent dialogue, and always reading newly-minted dialogue out loud. Speaking it is important because it helps you get a handle on the sounds and rhythms and flow of the speech.
Linda Seger refers to dialogue as the music of fiction writing. Dialogue should contain flowing melodic patterns, whether staccato or legato, which follow changing rhythms, much like music does. Writers have to develop an ear for this if they are to write dialogue that conveys the emotions, attitudes and values of individual characters.
“Character dialogue is indispensable to any story. Mastering its use will go a long way to making you an accomplished writer.”
In her book, Creating Unforgettable Characters, Seger suggest that in preparing to write dialogue you ought to ask the following questions:
1. Have you defined characters through their speech rhythms, vocabulary, accent, and the length of their sentences?
2. Does the dialogue contain conflict? Does it contrast the attitudes and values of the different characters?
3. Does the dialogue bristle with subtext? In other words, does the denotation of the words differ from the connotation—is there a deeper and often contrary meaning under the surface of the speech?
4. Does the dialogue reveal or hint at the ethnic and general background of the characters? Their level of education, age, and social background?
5. Is each character’s dialogue distinct? In other words, if the speech tags in the novel or screenplay suddenly disappeared, could you still recognise who was speaking?
Although there is much more to becoming a master of dialogue, these five suggestions will certainly help you improve the quality of your craft.
There are many approaches to improving your writing. Focusing on character and dialogue is one of them.