1. Write more stories.A myth I often hear about dialogue is that it should sound like real life. No, it shouldn't. Great dialogue sounds like the way we wish we all talked. The way we would talk if we could edit real life. Expose yourself to great movies and great books, keep plugging away at your own manuscripts, and dialogue will start to work better.
2. Read more great books with great dialogue.
3. Watch more movies and TV shows with great dialogue.
But sometimes even after you become an agented, published, well-received author, there can be conversations in your book that just aren't working. They're flat, predictable, trite, whatever. I hit a wall like this while writing Out with the In Crowd.
I was on my first draft and Skylar, my main character, had just had a wonderful show down with her former best friend, Jodi. Because that plot line had really heated up, I knew it was time to hit her from another angle - to bring back the mother who had left back in chapter 3.
I got to my computer that morning, rubbed my hands together, and poised my fingers over the keyboard.
I mean, nothing good. It was all what you would expect - What are you doing here, Mom? I came back for Abbie. You want to go with her? Yada, yada, yada.
When I finished writing the conversation, I knew it was flat. That despite all the emotions that should be going on in the family's conversation, they weren't there on the page.
I re-read my work, and then found one little blip of dialogue that intrigued me:
Abbie's chair grated across the tile as she stood. "Do you know what it's like to be plain and boring while your sister's some exotic beauty?"
It intrigued me because until then I had always been seeing Abbie through Skylar's eyes - the long copper hair, the cinnamon eyes. But I had never before thought about how Abbie felt about Skylar's unique beauty.
And if I haven't thought about that, what else have I not considered from Abbie's perspective?
I prefer to write in first person and from only one point of view character, but I rewrote the conversation from Abbie's point of view, just as an experiment. And then from the mom's. When I did that, I was able to tap into the other emotions going on in the scene. Previously all I'd been able to capture was Skylar's shock. But Abbie and their mom had been planning, manipulating, waiting. Much more interesting.
Then I took what I learned, and I rewrote the scene from Skylar's point of view. It worked much better that time, and I'm proud of the finished product. It would be madness to attempt this exercise for every conversation. But for those high-emotion, high-impact scenes, it's worth the effort.
If you own a copy of Out with the In Crowd and want to read the scene in its entirety, it starts on page 135. If you don't own a copy of Out with the In Crowd, but you would like to, leave a comment below, and I'll get you entered to win a copy. And be sure either check back for the winner or leave an email address so I can get a hold of you. (Due to the realities of international shipping fees, this giveaway is limited to US Residents only.)
Speaking of giveaways, Melanie Dickerson will be here tomorrow - yay! - giving away a copy of The Merchant's Daughter.
Also, if you have anything you'd like included in this week's news day - finishing a first draft, getting an article published, committing to a writing schedule - send me an email at Stephanie(at)GoTeenWriters.com, and I'll get you on the schedule.
What book or movie or TV show do you think is an example of great dialogue?