After working on a particularly difficult part of the novel I’m working on today, I uncovered a tip for writing dialogue, much better dialogue.

An epiphany, turned into a tip for writing dialogue

When writing fiction, it’s inevitable that you’ll come to realize that some characters are more vivid in your mindseye than others, right from the beginning. Much more vivid. Like you can practically smell them, vivid. You almost know them better than yourself, with minimal effort. And other characters… well, not so much.

Nevertheless, eventually your vivid characters will have to engage in dialogue with your not-so-vivid characters. Which means, you’ll have to write it.

I mean, even Tom Hanks’s character in the movie Cast Away ended up talking to a volleyball. Remember Wilson? And if he had to talk to sporting equipment in order to come to life in the story himself, so do your characters, and so do mine.

So, anyway, I’m sitting there trying to write a dialogue between two of my main characters this morning. And it is falling flat. It’s supposed to be an intense and emotional scene I’m writing and I can almost hear crickets in the background.

I write and delete and write and delete the same passage an embarrassingly frustrating number of times. Then, finally I say to myself, exasperated, after deleting the same passage a-gain, “He wouldn’t even say that!”

A-ha! I thought, How would you know? Who even is this person you’re writing about? Do you even know who he is? How do you know what he would say?

Tip for writing better dialogue: develop your characters meticulously first before writing dialogue for them and by them

My epiphany, which really wasn’t an epiphany because I had to work for it to strike me, made me realize that I needed to better develop my character first, before I continued writing more intense dialogue for him.

Sure, I already knew what this character more or less looked like and where he’s from and what he did for work. But this time around, I came up with little idiosyncrasies about him. And weird likes and dislikes. I detailed what his voice sounded like until I could hear it in my mind like a memory. I envisioned the content of his closet and dresser drawers, learned about what he was like in childhood and what his greatest fear as a child was, as well as what it is now that he’s an adult. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I also found a picture of a celebrity I could picture playing my character on the silver screen. Then I could really envision him, in real life, mannerisms and tonal inflections and all. And the dialogue nearly started writing itself. Whew! I’m not sure this is a foolproof tip, but it worked this time around!

Do you have tips to share for writing dialogue? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.

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