Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Best Dialog Advice You Ever Received


I posted an open question on my various social profiles. I asked this: "What's the best advice you ever got for writing dialog?" Here are the results. 

Josh Nealis: Dialogue is tough. Generally, on my first draft, the dialogue is more or less kind of a placeholder for kind of what I want the character to say. Once the entire story is written and I know the Arc of the character on the second and third passes you can go back and fix the dialogue to Trend in the way you want it to. Always think about what the character is trying to accomplish in that moment or 

Anthony Taylor: This: ", he said."

Cully Perlman: Stick as best as you can to “he said” and “she said” for dialogue tags. Be sparse with anything else. Especially adverbs.

Ef Deal: Tags are not always necessary. Intersperse dialogue with action instead.

Shannon Luchies: Say it aloud. If it sounds wrong, rethink it.

Lucy Blue: If you’re not sure, try reading it out loud. Would you say it? If somebody said it to you, would it get the reaction you intended? Remember, people tend not to talk in long, complex sentences even when they “monologue.” You ain’t Shakespeare; you’re writing conversation, not poetry. Dialogue is my favorite thing to write; it comes most easily to me. It’s descriptions that hang me up.

Susan H. Roddey: It should always sound natural when spoken aloud.

Lainey Kennedy: Read it out loud. You will catch more weirdness from hearing it than reading it on the page.

Devin Hylton: Dialogue is not actual conversation.

David Wright: Find the rhythm in the speech. Don't overburden with tags. Let word choice be governed by character and setting.

John Morgan Neal: As has been said by many already, read it aloud. But I would add to try and read in character. That way avoids all characters 'sounding ' the same.

Angela Hope: Death to adverbs!! (via Stephen King)

John French: (from my high school freshman English class) When writing dialogue, the rules of grammar do not have to be strictly followed.

Jessica Hodges: To help the verbal exchange between characters feel more organic, replace repetitive dialogue tags with action beats.

Jesse Baruffi: Don't spell words differently based on characters' accents. Let word choice make their accents come out.

Characters should not be constantly setting each other up for clever wordplay. Such things occasionally happen, but it is best when it's surprising, and doesn't feel like the author's hand at work.

If all the characters sound the same, it's your voice, not theirs.

Let your characters listen poorly and talk past each other, so only the reader often hears them.

Characters, even honest ones, should usually hold back their feelings and intentions as much as they can until there's no choice but to reveal them.

Also, don't have the characters tell each other things the audience already knows.

Kay Iscah: I disagree with this to a point. Some authors do a fantastic job of conveying accent with dialogue, and it creates a richer experience. But it requires really knowing and understanding the accent.

Don't use an accent to mock a character, but there is a place for regional flavor. I think A Secret Garden is a book in which this works well. But it is extra grating if done badly, so if the accent is slight or unimportant to the story, probably best not to try to imitate it.

I used a very heavy, almost unintelligible accent for one of my fantasy novels, but it was done with purpose, not to mock anyone. But I had to craft rules for it to keep it consistent.

Listen to how people speak, but dialogue can be the characters saying the things you wish you had said an hour later. Unless you need to show nervousness, minimize the "um" and rambles that often come in real conversation. And this does vary a bit by genre, so understand if you're writing an adventure or screenplay dialogue should be very tight. If you're doing a leisurely slice-of-life novel, then you can meander more.

Taylor Mosbey: Read more Mark Twain.

Anna Salazar: I go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop.

Gordon Dymowski: Make a point of focusing on how a person speaks - what vocabulary are they using? Is that person's vocal rhythm unique? Thinking of dialogue like music is one of my key go-to strategies when writing dialogue.

Ali Marceau: Write the conversation that's in your head first...actions and reactions will come to you the more you "study the lines" and you're less likely to forget the feelings of the scene.

Bobby Nash: Walk around the house reading dialogue aloud.

Scott Rogers: Give each character their own way of sayin’ something so their personality comes through. Read what you have written aloud after you have written it.

Ruth de Jauregui: Read it out loud in the cadence and accents of your characters. Words too. So if the Latino across the street says oh my god, it’s in Spanish, then continues in English with his accent. And words spelled differently to mimic the accent, ok, maybe sometimes, but if the book is filled with it, it’s hard to edit and honestly distracts from the story.

Robby Hilliard:
Read it out loud. Listen to someone else read it out loud.

Eliseu Gouveia: I usually use movie actors as proxies. I had a dialogue scene where a guy was trying to convince his pissed-off girlfriend to quit smoking. So, in my mind, I projected The Shoveler (Mistery Men) for the guy role, and Morticia Addams/Anjelica Huston as the girlfriend. The results were... unexpected. 😊

John Hartness: Read David Mamet.

Jessica Nettles: Watch Aaron Sorken shows. Read Neal Simon. Listen to real conversations and language. Understand that every person has their own language music and patter.

Nancy Hansen: If I can see the character in my mind's eye, I'll figure out the background, and then the dialogue comes more naturally. Sometimes I'll hunt for the right look online, and either find it in a celebrity or other recognizable person, or maybe some random picture I stumble across. Ethnicity and local/period slang and phrasing will figure in, but as Ruth said, in small doses. Like adding spice to a dish, it gets overwhelming if you add too much. For example, in the Jezebel Johnston pirate series, which takes place in the mid/late 1600s I decided from the outset to not use the 'thees and thous' sort of parlance that was popular in the day. It's hard to do well and gets tiresome to read after a while. I do my share of pirate talk though, just not the theatrical stuff. I also dump in the occasional phrase in French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, etc to remind readers that seafaring was a melting pot affair.

Charles Santino: Less is more. Clever is bad.

Jamais Jochim: Be passionate.

Allen Hammack: Ninety-nine percent of dialog lines should use "said." The very rare substitution should emphasize something important.

Michael McIlvain: Keep it understandable. Eliminate any possible question in the reader’s mind.

Pj Lozito: Don't let any character give a speech...

B. Clay Moore: Don't work to emulate the way people "actually speak." Work to make the way your characters speak seem believable. Also, dialogue comes easily for me once I can "hear" a character's voice in my head. That comes from *knowing* who my characters are. Everything follows from there.

Michael Woods: Dialogue isn't what they say, but how they say it.

Sorella Smith: Writing dialogue and how you tag it are not the same thing. for me, simply saying 'said' can often understate the intent of the dialogue. For others, adding a descriptor devalues the dialogue, gives too much weight to the narrative. Figuring that balance out is separate from writing good dialogue. Dialogue should be suited to the character. Dialogue isn't what should define the character, but it should inform the character and everything about the character should inform it.

Hilaire C Smith: Not really advice for writing so much as personal insight... I learned I am a wordy b**** 😂 and use $5 words regularly... the "would YOU say it like that" doesn't help me. 😂

Also, most of my characters are Southern precisely because I cannot excise my Southern roots from my grammar/vocabulary. Along those lines, some advice: avoid regional dialects as it can be done badly and come off as bigoted if badly done. Ie, it's fine to toss in a "y'all," but making a character sound like Boomhauer might not go over well and will be tiresome to read.

Aaron Rosenberg: Listen to how people speak. Hear your characters speak in your head. Read what they say out loud. Then go listen to people more. 

James P. Nettles III: I’ve been known to dictate, poorly acting out the character voices to get the first draft. And also, listen to old radio shows - very tight dialogue.

James Tuck: if you are having a conversation between two people, once you establish who's talking trust your audience to keep up. You do not have to he said she said that shit all the way down the page.

Jen Mulvihill: I listen to other people interact in dialogue and take note of how they communicate then I play it out in my head with my dialogue then I listen to what I have written in audio playback.

Shannon Murphy: Don't worry about grammar. Nobody speaks in perfect grammar. Write dialog the way people actually speak. That is, if your book is contemporary. If you're writing of another time, you'll have to research how they spoke then. No one in Victorian England is going to say, "Hey, dude!"

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