Dialogue is a key tool in any author’s arsenal. By plotting out a conversation between characters, you can move your book’s narrative along and draw readers further into your imaginary world. But if you’re not careful, your dialogue will seem unnatural, making your characters appear less realistic to your readers. Hayim Oshky explains how to write book dialogue.
Who are your characters?
Our life circumstances influence the way we speak. Factor this in when writing dialogue, so you can adopt the tone of voice needed to make your characters believable to your audience. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, for instance, is set in the British region of Yorkshire, so many of her characters adopt a Yorkshire dialect. Examine your character profiles and look at factors like their age, location and socio-economic status, to determine how they would speak if they were real people.
Find a structure
Writing dialogue is like plotting a novel; you need to structure your speech to ensure it draws readers into your imaginary world. In Techniques of the Selling Writer, author Dwight Slain says there are two types of scenes. These are standard scenes, which feature a goal, obstacle and a disaster and sequel scenes, which include a reaction, a dilemma and a decision. Frame your dialogue around these components so you can write cohesive spoken exchanges which drive your book’s narrative along.
Let it flow
Online authors resource Writers Digest advises you to just “let the dialogue flow” when writing the first draft of a scene. Speech cannot be forced, it must sound natural. By just letting the dialogue flow, you can ensure that you craft seamless spoken exchanges which resemble real conversation. With this strategy, speech may come to you in the heat of the moment that you didn’t intend to include, providing you with some extra inspiration which could allow you to craft an even better scene!
Be careful with backstory
Dialogue can serve as a useful way of introducing readers to your characters’ backstory. But you need to be really careful here, as dropping factual hints about your characters via speech can sound incredibly forced. Let’s say one of your characters has found out they are pregnant. All the other characters already know this but your readers don’t. How would you clue your audience in?
Having the character say “I’m pregnant” might be unrealistic. Nobody would say this outright again to someone who already knows. Instead, find a situation where it’s appropriate for the character to bring up their news. For instance give your character a reason to say that they have been attending antenatal classes, so you can go on to introduce your audience to this pivotal part of your plot.
Speak out dialogue
Test your dialogue to see how it sounds when it’s spoken aloud. By doing this, you can see whether your speech flows as any conversation between two people should and spot anything which sounds unnatural. Here you might want to enlist the help of a friend and together read the scene out loud, as though you’re acting out a play, to test out your book’s dialogue.
Craft realistic characters
The key to writing a successful novel is to craft good characters, which your readers can identify with and ultimately believe in. Therefore, you need to make sure your characters speak like real people in their situations would. With this strategy, you will allow your readers to engage with your narrative more effectively, as they will be able to be able to actively imagine each scene as they unfold in your book.
Thank you for reading… Hayim Oshky.