I find that I constantly have trouble trying to convey what I really want my character to say. Like I can picture it and everything, but to find the exact words to make it click is kind of hard. Any advice on this particular issue for an amateur writer such as myself?
Writing dialogue isn’t easy, the best writers have trouble with it, so don’t worry too much!
Writing natural and fluid dialogue: Tips and Advice
Probably the best advice I can offer is to practise listening to how natural dialogue is spoken and apply it to your writing. Maybe you’re thinking “um, duh, of course, I know how people speak I do it all the time!”. True, but do you ever stop to listen to the way they form sentences? How they clip the ends of their words? Trail off uncertaintly…? Speak in one long breath of air when they’re excited and itallcomesoutsoundingalittlelikethis. Hardly anyone speaks without some form of contractions in full unbroken sentences, as it sounds stiff and unnatural. (Although you might have a character who you could choose to have speak like this to highlight how stiff they are or even inhuman).
Time for some people watching!
Find a place with people to eavesdrop on. But don’t be obvious because some might find it a bit creepy… A good place is a cafe or park bench, somewhere you can hang about casually and not look odd for loitering. You could also try listening to your friends or family if a cafe or park bench isn’t available. Go sit with your family, play a game of monopoly, socialise with them (ugh). Now, sit and listen. Listen to how a normal person speaking naturally. sounds Take mental notes of how a speaker interrupts someone, how they place a noun in front of their sentence (”Coffe, want one? My treat?”) how they use run on and broken sentences that an English teacher would have a fit at. While you’re studying how people speak in their natural environment you might also overhear some quality lines that might spark your imagination. Maybe that blonde lady in the thick fur coat, despite the summer heat, who suspiciously looks like she put whisky in her latte, could inspire a character in your writing.
Read read read
It might seem like an odd idea; “shouldn’t I be working on my writing instead of reading?”, but you can’t do one without the other. Choose a book that you know had natural dialogue, if you can’t think of a particular book that had good dialogue often the answer is a book that never once drew your attention away from the story, dialogue that always seemed right and never made you question your suspension of belief. Take this book and read it again, not for the scenery or the action, purely for the dialogue. Again, take real or mental notes on how the different character speak, the use of words and structure. Ingrain the pattern of natural dialogue into your head. And now find a terrible book. Find a book that the dialogue was stiff, unnatural and simply put, atrocious. Study how they never use contractions, how the characters hit the reader over the head with exposition (”Wow Emily, my half-sister, I haven’t seen you for two years since the ski trip that left you terribly afraid of snow!”), how they use jilted, outdated slang. Now, simply put, don’t do this. Look through your own work and highlight anything that feels similar to the dialogue in the awful book and rewrite it with focus on how
An exercise to do is to chuck scenery, description, and action aside for one minute. Toss it aside, you don’t need it for this activity. You’ll be focussing solely on the dialogue alone. Write your scene using only dialogue in script format. Don’t worry about clunky paragraphs of all that other stuff to get in the way and break the flow, just let the scene play out in your head like a movie and jot down what the characters say. When you have this script you can now add all that stuff you put aside, put the speech tags and characters actions, put in all the description and scenery perfectly woven around the dialogue, clip anything that breaks the flow until you have a scene with natural sounding dialogue that is well balanced within your scene.