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Dynamic Dialogue Part I

Over the next few weeks, we'll be bringing you some tips on taking your dialogue from drab to dynamic. Writing great dialogue requires you to walk a fine line. You want it to sound realistic, but not too realistic . . . because a lot of real life dialogue is, quite frankly, boring. 

The goal is real dialogue with all the boring bits taken out. 

Before I give you the tip of the week, I want to give you my number one tip of all time. It's so simple, and may seem obvious, but it will save you buckets of time and awkward dialogue. Ready for it?

Read your dialogue out loud. 

That's it. Skip the action beats, the setting, all of the prose. Just read the dialogue. You'll be surprised that you hear all manner of unnatural sounding conversation. Pretty simple, eh?

Okay, on to the tip of the week. I promise to keep it short. 

This is it: Use contractions. Almost always. Real people in real conversations use contractions. No one says: "I do not have the needed ingredient for this dish, so I am going to the store where I shall pick up some cilantro."
We say: "I don't have any cilantro. I'm going to the store to pick some up."

When you write out words that could, and should, be contractions, you make your characters sound needlessly formal, or like English is their second language. 

However, if your character is formal, say a grand duke or a nineteenth-century butler, then by all means, let them speak with panache. Likewise, if they're new to America, feel free to skip the contractions, misuse common idioms, and let them use improper grammar. 

Then take it back to my first rule. Read it out loud.

If it sounds awkward, redo it.

Easy as that. So, what do you think? And what are your dialogue pet peeves? We'll make our best attempt to cover them all in the coming weeks.


Thanks to dalbera for the great blah image.