Editing Tip #8

The Dialogue Debacle

dialogueGood dialogue is all about believability – does it sound like a real person… is it true to your character’s personality and persona?

There are hundreds of sources you can find online via search engines or writer forums that discuss how to achieve effective dialogue at length.  I’m going to break it down to the basics for you and then you can decide whether you’re on the right track or not.

Ask yourself:

– When I read the dialogue out loud does it sound right?

So, what does “right” mean….right?  That depends on your character.

If it’s a stuffed-shirt professor or professor wannabe there will be an almost lawyer-like quality to his speech patterns – that intrinsic ‘know-it-all-ness’ that many people of higher learning carry about them.

In this scenario the prof probably won’t use many contractions and he’ll lean toward larger more complex vocabulary.

Unless your professor is young and hip and grew up in the South.  Well now, that just changes everything.  Now your professor will likely use common colloquialisms (words, phrases, & sayings common to where she grew up) and slang intermixed with wit and charm to create that balance of great-gal big-brain finesse.


Never use colloquial phrases and speech patterns unless you are very familiar with them.  If you guess at what a slave from the 1800s sounded like, you will probably get it wrong and discredit your work.

Generally speaking, everything you’re not supposed to do when writing prose in the 3rd person is fair game for (and expected) when it comes to dialogue.  People speak in cliche to make valid points fast.  People say, “ya” and “eh” several times in the course of a conversation (but again, don’t over do it).

As a rule of thumb, read aloud what you have written and if it sounds right for your character, keep it – for now.  Ask a good friend or writing buddy to read it out loud in front of you, too.  Then you can hear how someone else reads the same text.  If either of you trip up over the wording in any way, then it’s too complex.

Like anything, good dialogue comes from practice. 

Listen to the people around you, to books on ‘tape’ from the library, whatever you can think of – but make sure you know everything you need to know about the peculiarities and nuances of your character before settling on his or her dialogue.

Become a master of your craft – be an informed writer.

Categories: Editing

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