Dialogue is a funny thing. If you get it right, your writing flows better and is more realistic. If you get it wrong, all of your characters will seem stiff and about as real as a flannel graph.
So what makes good dialogue? And, more importantly, how do you write it?
The first thing about realistic dialogue is that it needs to be realistic. (Bet you didn't see that one coming!) Different people talk differently. Your characters should too.
We'll take a look at a few of the characters from my novel, Worlds Apart. (I'm working on editing it right now, so hopefully this will help me with their dialogue as well as you with your characters.)
First of all, there's my main character, Bree. Jonaver is from Mreda, another world that Bree is transported to. (Think Middle Earth.) Then we have Quarl, a random guard who is awesome fun. And last but not least, Kauvin, the villain.
They all speak differently. Bree is your typical teenage girl, so it's fairly easy to tell that she's talking--she's the only one who says, "Yeah," and "Whatever."
Jonaver, since he's from Mreda, talks a bit different from Bree. He mixes Mredaic words in with English, and sounds slightly more formal than Bree.
Quarl is one of two guards in a scene from the beginning of the story. I needed a way to tell them apart, since Bree doesn't know their names, and "first guard" and "second guard" were starting to get old. So, the answer was to give one of them an accent.
Kauvin is Mredan, like Jonaver, but more refined. He doesn't use contractions, which makes him sound very stuck-up. He's also a good speaker, so his words need to be smooth and convincing.
Now you can probably figure out who of the above characters are talking in each of these dialogue snatches:
"Hope you two know where you're going, 'cause I'll be lost in, like, thirty seconds." (Bree)
"Oi! It's the queen!" (Quarl)
"Oi! No, it ain't!" (Bree being snarky)
"Welcome to Arwole, Bree." (Jonaver)
"It cannot be McKinley. Surely you meant something else." (Kauvin)
Aside from the line where Bree copies Quarl's accent, it's fairly obvious who's talking. Even if they don't have an obvious accent or dialect, even just their personality can come through their dialogue:
Bree: Well, that worked. On to plan B.
Lana: We have a plan B?
Bree: Nope. But we're going to make one up.
Sometimes a character will have a favorite word or phrase that they use whenever given half the chance. Bree will say "Go away" when someone is bugging her. She doesn't really mean it, it's just her version of "Shut up."
You have to be careful with this, though. If they use a certain word too much, it will start to get on your reader's nerves.
Now, before I go, I've got an exercise for you. Gather up your characters, and start asking them the names for several different things. (Eg, a purse, Coke, the bathroom, etc.) Different characters will call them different things.
Me: *drops handbag on table* What is this?
Bree: *boredly* A purse.
Jonaver: A bag.
Aster: *grabs handbag* *tears it open* What? It's empty!
Me: *sets bottle of Coke on table* How about this?
Bree: *tries to get knife to balance on tip* Soda.
Jonaver: ...I have no idea.
Aster: Can I drink it?
Me: What would you say if you were surprised?
Bree: Do you really need to use us for examples?
Me: ..That is not what you would say.
Bree: ... *pushes back chair* *stomps out of room*
Jonaver: *watches her leave*
Me: You two still haven't answered me.
Me: I said, you two still haven't-
Jonaver: No, that's what I'd say if I were surprised.
Me: Oh. And you, Aster?
Me: Try again.
Aster: Wonder where Bree went... *walks out after Bree*
(Well, now you all know about the legendary cooperation of my characters.)
So how about you? What are some ways you use dialogue to show your characters as individual people?
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