Charlie Laidlaw is an author and tutor at Creating Writers
All of us have conversations every day, some more than others. We should therefore understand how dialogue works because it’s of the everyday.
But it’s surprising how clunky some bits of written dialogue can feel.
Dialogue is more than just advancing your story. It should be about developing or reinforcing character.
If there’s a posh person in your story, they should talk posh – but not at the expense of sounding real. Likewise, if there’s a very ordinary person in your story, their language should reflect what they’d say in real life.
One of your characters might say “I don’t really know, I’m terribly sorry.” Another might say, “I dunno, mate.” . If your character isn’t properly formed, chances are that what they say will seem contrived or plain wrong.
When you write dialogue, it’s always a good idea to write out the full conversation first, before adding in “he said” or “she said with a smile.” Write it all out and then read it back to yourself, out loud if needed. See how it then sounds. Does the interplay between characters actually work?
Most of our everyday conversations are pretty banal. If we’re in a shop, a conversation with the shop assistant might be:
“Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“A bit windy, but at least it’s dry.”
“Now, what can I get for you?”
“A packet of wine gums, please.”
“Thank you. Will that be everything, sir?”
“That’ll be 80 pence.”
In other words, irrelevant and boring. If it’s important to the story, simply say that he went to the corner shop and bought a packet of wine gums.
He went to the corner shop and bought a packet of wine gums. The shop assistant said that it was a nice day, if a little windy. Outside the shop, he looked up at churning clouds, felt drizzle on his upturned face, and wondered when the shop assistant had last been outside.
By the time you get into your novel, you should be able to visualise and hear your characters. Once you have them fully fixed in your mind, you can go back and edit what you’ve made them say.
But you must have clarity about your characters: you must see them as real people, each with a different way of speaking.
If you need help getting started, Creating Writers has two online creative writing courses, an introductory course and our flagship Diploma course.
It’s an intensive course, with lots of face-to-face tuition. It also comes with a real qualification at the end of it.
That could not only kick-start your writing career but provide you with a valuable qualification for your resume.
Our courses are intended to give you the confidence and skills to understand what makes great writing. On the Diploma course, we’ll also get you started on your novel.
For more information, you can contact us here.