One quick thing I'll say is that dialogue can be spelled either dialog or dialogue. The form "dialogue" is the old English spelling, and "dialog" is the American. Since I'm not a Brit, you might wonder why I write "dialogue." I don't know. My guess is that's the way my teacher's taught me, so it's the way it looks right to me. "Dialog" looks incomplete to me, even though my brain knows it's perfectly correct. Especially for an American.
Okay, I think I'm officially stalling.
How to write good dialogue.
Avoid Q & A sessions
What do I mean by Q&A sessions? I mean exchanges like this:
"I know you get claustrophobic," Kyle said. "It's so great to see you."
"It's great to see you too," she told him.
"Where did you move to?" Kyle asked.
"A place called Vernon. It's a suburb of St. Louis."
"Did you like it there?" Kyle asked her.
Um, what do you bet Paige answers him? And that Kyle asks her another question?
It's not like characters asking each other questions is some no-no. But the tennis-match-style conversation is just kinda ... blah.
Don't let them say everything they're thinking
One of the ways you create conflict in your story is to create conflict in your dialogue. And one of the ways you do that is to not let your character say everything they're thinking. This is a scene from the dandelion book where Paige is telling Carter - long time boyfriend - that she's moving.
"My family..."Paige trailed off. She started over, "My father...is being transferred at the end of June."
"The end of June?!" he exploded. "We're a week into June already!"
"I know. Please don't yell."
"Where are you moving?!" Carter went right on yelling.
"St. Louis, please don't yell," Paige begged.
He yanked his hand away from her. "Don't touch me," he whispered harshly, turning away.
"Carter-don't do this. Calm down."
"Stop it! Stop it! Stop being so positive and cheerful. Paige, we've barely spent a week apart these past 2 years. Letters and phone conversations and e-mails aren't going to hold us over."
"We can visit each other," Paige suggested.
"Let's get real, Paige. My family doesn't have the money for plane tickets and neither does yours," Carter said.
I have two points I want to make about this excerpt.
The first is that these two are being way too open with each other. My husband and I have been together since we were freshman in high school ... but when I come to him with news I know he isn't going to like, there's strategy involved. I'm not talking about manipulation or anything like that, I mean that I think through how this is going to effect him, what the positives are, when the best timing will be. And we're talking about someone who I've been with for half my life, and who I'm quite confident isn't going to leave me. Real life conversation involves strategy, and story world conversation does too.
Of course it can be a lot of fun to toss in a character who tends to say whatever pops into their brain, but how often do you say everything you're thinking? When you're put on hold for 10 minutes and someone finally comes back on the line and says, "I'm so sorry for the wait," what's your answer? I always say, "Don't worry about it," even though I've spent the last 9 1/2 minutes grumbling things like, "Don't worry - my time isn't important. I'm not spending precious kid-free minutes trying to sort out this stupid billing error that's your fault. Take your sweet time."
The other thing I noticed in the above excerpt is there's so much in so little - and not in a good way. So, in a little more than 100 words she tells her boyfriend she's moving, and they're already trying to figure out how this is going to work out? (And in the manuscript, they're broken up about 50 words later - yikes!)
It goes way too fast. I can tell that I had information I wanted Paige to impart to Carter (I'm moving, I'll be in St. Louis, I want this to work out) and I worked all that in as quickly as I could. Probably so I could finish the scene before Geometry class ended.
You've probably heard of the 5 stages of grief. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. As your characters are moving through the story and experiencing set backs, conflict, and heartbreak, they should be going through these stages.
As I sit here thinking about Paige and Carter, about where they live, and how long they've been together, it's obvious to me that Carter absorbs Paige's news in a ridiculous amount of time. Same as if my husband came home from work today and said, "We're moving to Idaho Falls." My first thought would be something like, "Uh, no we're not."
Make sure you're giving your characters time to process what's going on.
Okay, there were so many issues with the dialogue in the dandelion story, I have to break this into two posts. More on this next week.
Have burning dialogue questions you'd like answered? Post them below. And, just for fun, which do think looks better - dialogue or dialog?