Writing Natural Dialogue In Novels, by Phillipa Fioretti
Writing convincing, natural dialogue can be a challenge for novelists. Personally, I love writing dialogue. It’s partly where characters come to life. I have mine blathering on at great length in my first drafts. In the subsequent drafts I pare back, delete, fuss and fiddle, trying to get the dialogue to seem as natural as possible.
Most conversations take place while someone is doing something else: driving, walking or whatever. To sit down and have a coherent one-to-one conversation and to stay on topic is unnatural for people. Yet writers have characters do it all the time.
Combining action and dialogue gives a more natural feel and prevents the story from collapsing into strings of conversations held together by the odd bit of exposition. If you pay attention to conversations around you it soon become clear that people circle around, stumble, pause and generally bumble through conversations like toddlers in a play pen.
A fun exercise which can heighten your awareness of natural conversation is to unobtrusively record family or friends – nobody who will get cross with you and smash your digital recorder – having a conversation and then transcribe it, or use speech to text if you have it. Edit the conversation down to a couple of lines which capture the feeling and subject. It’s quite a surprise to discover how much rubbish people speak on a daily basis.
It’s also a valuable exercise for detecting the dynamic between speakers or within a group. What is left unsaid, is thinly veiled, hints at an underlying agenda or is obviously an attack or an alliance, should all be considered when writing dialogue, because, for all their talk, people often don’t mean what they say.
It can be far more realistic and intriguing for readers, who often know more than the characters do about a situation, for the dialogue to be indirect and subtle. Dialogue is a great vehicle for showing character. You just have pay close attention to how you write it.
Phillipa Fioretti’s author website: www.phillipafioretti.com.au
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