Hello, and nice to see you again! This month we’re talking about styles of dialogue we write, the struggles, and our pet peeves. Grab your drink of choice and come join us!
1. How do you write dialogue? Do you lean more towards a realistic style or a dramatic style?
I don’t do anything special to write dialogue. I try to be mindful of how a character would speak, but I don’t purposefully give them vocal quirks or habits usually. I’ve gotten both criticized and praised for my dialogue, so I actually have no idea if I’m any good or not. I do tend to lean towards a more dramatic style, especially if the story I’m writing is a more dramatic or literary story.
I think I lean more towards a realistic dialogue style when I write. Maybe because I’m not great at dramatic dialogue. Mine tends to sound like Dr. Drakken/Dr. Doofenshmirtz, which usually doesn’t tonally fit with the project I’m writing.
I think it depends on the story for me. I try to choose a style that suits the characters and tone of the work best. Dialogue is one of my weaknesses, so I can’t say I’m particularly good at one style over the other, but I really enjoy experimenting with both styles in lots of different projects.
2. Any tips for writing dialogue?
Body language is also a kind of dialogue. Don’t shy away from it. I try to give space to show the movement of the character and give them some life so it isn’t just quotations. I try to pay attention to the syntactic pacing of the story and dialogue, so if there’s a pause or lull in the conversation, I try to mirror that in the prose itself. I feel like it gives a better effect of the flow of conversation, but I don’t know how effective it is.
I read my dialogue after I’ve written it. If it sounds strange (other than the usual “omg I wrote this” cringe), then the dialogue might be awkward and need some edits. I also put myself in my characters’ shoes when I write dialogues and ask myself how the character would respond to the previous statement. If it’s not flowing naturally, that’s usually how I tell and know to rework it.
I think “start in the right place” is a tip I always come back to. It’s important for dialogue to be interesting, so most of the time I avoid having my characters exchange greetings and stuff like that. I try to get to the heart of a scene as quickly as possible.
But there are also times when greetings can say a lot. Like, if one character says hello and the other character breezes past them like they aren’t even there—that’s drama—that’s at least three eyes emojis in the group chat. So, what’s interesting can vary depending on the story, and noticing what parts deepen readers’ understanding of a character or move the plot forward really help me make sure the dialogue and the scene as a whole are starting in the right place.
3. What kind of dialogue in books do you prefer?
I don’t know if I have a particular preference. Just pretty things are enough for me as long as it isn’t too pretentious. I like if it’s easy-to-read and you can tell who’s talking when people are having a conversation. In the book Exit Here by Jason Myers, the main character doesn’t even get quotation marks because it’s told in first person. Someone mentioned it to me before I read it, and honestly, I barely even noticed because the stream of consciousness was so easy to read that it didn’t matter whether he was thinking or speaking. I really enjoyed the character voice coming through so strongly and that it matched the prose so well.
I like realistic dialogue more. My favorite dialogue will always be witty banter (especially in my enemies-to-lovers OTP) but it has to sound natural. It also needs an end. I love banter, but I don’t want a whole page of zinger after zinger.
I love subtext! When a character says something, but you can tell there’s more to it, that’s my jam! That might be one of the reasons I enjoy stories about fairies so much, actually. Reading is great; reading between the lines is icing with extra cherries on top. It doesn’t even have to be a certain type of subtext to grab my attention. All of them are so good! Flirty subtext! Threatening subtext! Heart-wrenching subtext! Those moments when a character doesn’t have to say “I love you” or “I’ll kill you” or “I’ll miss you” because we can tell from everything else they’re saying. Just yes to all of it.
4. What are some of your dialogue pet peeves?
I dislike having dialogue tags after every single quote if it’s a quick-fire conversation between two people! After a while, we get it. We can tell when the other person is talking. I’m also not really a big fan of written-out accents–there are more elegant ways of writing this out. Getting through that section of Wuthering Heights was a STRUGGLE for high school me.
Please stop explaining the plot in awkward dialogue. If we need to introduce a character or event that the characters know about but the reader doesn’t, dialogue isn’t where you introduce them (the only time it worked was The Emperor’s New Groove “poison for Kuzco” scene). Also, for the love of all things pure, stop the “sis” and “bro” sibling talk. Unless the characters aren’t actually siblings and are terrible at the con…no one talks to their siblings like that, and it hurts my eyes.
When I’m working on earlier drafts of a project and I don’t quite have the characters’ voices down yet, that is the absolute living end for me. Agony. Suffering! Can’t all the characters just pop into my brain fully formed like Holly from our holiday special did?
Jokes aside, I know figuring out the perfect voice for a character can take time and that’s a big part of what drafting is for in the first place, but I’m still always especially grateful when Raspberry and Pineapple help me out with feedback on my dialogue.
Thanks for joining us again this month! Do you have any similar struggles with dialogue or any tips for those of us who do? Drop them in the comments or @ us on Twitter @JaamWriting! We hope to see you again next time!