Writing Dialogue

I used to hate writing dialogue with a vengeance, I'd write anything to get out of it. Characters would have long monologues or spend forever staring out of windows while I wrote tons of exposition just for them. Whenever I absolutely had to write dialogue it was short and usually dramatic. Re-reading it highlighted just how abrupt the conversations seemed to be, drifting in a chapter with no real place.

When I wrote for a long time in an rpg I also tried to avoid dialogue because I hated it. My characters would have long periods of internal monologues or in the case of Sebastian, my most used rpg character, he'd growl everything and swore an awful lot. Most likely he went to bed with a sore throat!  Santangelo, one of the protagonists in my debut novel HUMAN NATURE is a taciturn Mafia boss who said very little unless he was talking to Ronnie, so he was easy enough to write dialogue for. Eventually though, I realised you couldn't just have quiet or angry characters if you want to have a believable story.

The best thing I learnt was:

Every piece of dialogue should have a point and move the story on.  

Previously I'd write and think; dang, Seb's been too quiet for a bit, better have him talk. Or he'd explode with a lot of capital letters. This bit of advice has been the best for me in figuring out how to include holistic dialogue in my novels, dialogue that flows as integral to the story rather than a sticking point.

For example, last night I wrote a piece of dialogue between Dex and Maeve. I would have struggled with this previously but working out what the point of the conversation was helped me script it. In this scene the point is that Dex and Maeve's friendship is developing. In the rest of the series he will come to be one of her best friends so it's important the seeds of this are sown early on. With this in mind I found it much easier to script dialogue between them that shows an easy affection developing them. Without this point I might have given them staccato words that didn't really go anywhere.

What point do you want this piece of dialogue to achieve? If it has no point, do you really need to include dialogue?

Don't overuse dialogue tags.

If you could see how red my face is right now writing that. Think back to the first novel I ever wrote at the age of 13 - a thrilling expose about the royal family of Sweden, in which they discovered a secret son and a royal plot. Good thing it never saw the light of day because I never changed any of the names from the actual  Swedish Royal Family and I'd probably be wanted in Sweden! In this novel I wrote a tag for every bit of dialogue I wrote. EVERY single one! e.g.

"You can't do that!" Victoria muttered.

"Yes, I can, Victoria, don't give me the shifty eyes," muttered Sven.

As you can see, every Swedish male is called Sven, even the royal ones. Also, fairly sure no-one in Sweden has ever said shifty eyes. *rolls eyes*

But every single line had a tag, every single line referenced a name. In my teens I thought that's how you wrote dialogue, or how would you know who was speaking? Since then I've learnt that you don't have to use it every single line. Most people can follow a conversation between two characters talking without dialogue tags. If you have to bring in more, they should only be used to reference a change in your internal camera with a different speaker.

In short, Emma said, "Don't overuse dialogue tags," Emma repeated. Emma again!

Don't use your dialogue for long chunks of explanation.

Also guilty of this one once upon a time....alright, I was guilty of a lot! Learn from my mistakes!  I used to assume that if you wanted someone to understand something about your world or a plot point, you'd do it in dialogue. That way the other characters know right? But unless one of your characters is a total newbie to the world, they should already be aware of things in their world. It sounds odd and stilted to start explaining a huge chunk in your dialogue, especially if it would already be common knowledge to your characters.

For me, if I'm using dialogue to explain a lot of the story it asks the question of whether my story is well thought through and whether it's easy enough to understand. Your characters shouldn't really be doing the job of explaining large plot points or storylines to readers or it becomes way too convoluted - unless of course one of your characters is God, then He does know everything!

What do you need to explain? Is there another way?

I hope these 3 little points have been helpful for you. Do you have any tips on how to write better dialogue?