You need social skills to have a conversation in real life — but they’re quite different from the skills you need to write good dialogue. (Lesson by Educator Nadia Kalman.)
Dialogue gives a story color, makes it exciting, and moves it forward.
Romeo: O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
Juliet: What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?
Romeo: The exchange of thy love’s faithful vows for mine.
Wonder if it was without dialogue: (cricket sounds)
So what goes into writing effective dialogue? Well, there are social skills: Making friends, Solving conflicts, Being pleasant and polite.
We won’t be using any of those today.
Instead, we’ll be working on “Anti-social skills.”
If you’re a writer, you may already have a few of these.
- The first is Eavesdropping.
If you’re riding a bus and hear an interesting conversation, you could write it all down. Of course, when you write fiction, you’re not describing real people, you’re making up characters. But sometimes the words you overhear can give you ideas.
“I did not,” says one person.
“I saw you,” the other replies.
Who might be saying those words? Maybe it’s two kids in a class, and the boy thinks the girl pushed him. Maybe it’s a couple, but one of them is a vampire, and the woman vampire saw the man flirting with a zombie. Or maybe not. Maybe the characters are a teenager and his mother, and they’re supposed to be vegetarians, but the mother saw him eating a burger. So let’s say you’ve decided on some characters.
2. This is anti-social skill number two: Start pretending they’re real.
What are they like? Where are they from? What music do they listen to? Spend some time with them.
If you’re on a bus, think about what they might be doing if they were there too. Would they talk on the phone, listen to music, draw pictures, sleep?
What we say depends on who we are. An older person might speak differently than a younger person. Someone from the south might speak differently than someone from the north. Once you know your characters, you can figure out how they talk.
3. At this stage, it’s helpful to use anti-social skill number three: Muttering to yourself.
When you speak your character’s words, you can hear whether they sound natural, and fix them if necessary. Remember, most people are usually pretty informal when they speak. They use simple language and contractions.
So, “Do not attempt to lie to me” sounds more natural than “Don’t try to lie to me.” Also, keep it short. People tend to speak in short bursts, not lengthy speeches. And let the dialogue do the work. Ask yourself: do I really need that adverb? For instance, “‘Your money or your life,’ she said threateningly.” Here, “threateningly” is redundant, so you can get rid of it. But if the words and the actions don’t match, an adverb can be helpful. “‘Your money or your life,’ she said lovingly.”
So, to recap:
- Pretend imaginary people are real.
- Mutter to yourself, and write it all down.
You already have everything you need.
This is fictional dialogue, or “How to Hear Voices in Your Head.”
(From the lesson of Nadia Kalman — Full video here)