How to Write Killer Dialogue!
Flat Dialogue – What is this beast and how do we kill it?
I’ve heard people talk about ‘flat dialogue’ and thought back to several books that stood out. Recently, I was asked to read a book for someone who advertised the book with great energy and finesse and really sold the book to me. The plot sounded promising, the character details appeared good, and the setup started well. I was anxious to get into the nitty-gritty.
It didn’t take long for me to become bored and annoyed with the dialogue; and there was a lot of it. This writer had an opportunity to bring this book to life, but instead brought it to a dead stop by virtue of flat dialogue.
Realistic dialogue is one of the most powerful tools a writer has. Nothing pulls a reader out of the story faster than bad dialogue.
What does flat dialogue mean? Here are a few tips to help correct the problem.
- Unable to determine which sex is speaking – Men and women don’t speak the same, so you can’t write their dialogue the same. You have study the sexes, learn their mannerisms, learn their details. And above all, know your character. Is he shrewd, cunning, reserved; is she feminine, a tomboy, strong, weak? Show it through their dialogue.
- Writing a transcription of a conversation – Unessential dialogue – remove it. Become aware of how people talk, their expressions, and their natural speech patterns. Read something from Larry Jeff McMurtry for samples of great dialogue writing. Also, tap into Stephen King’s On Writing to learn some good tips.
- Feeding too much information and important facts instead of letting the story unfold naturally – Use dialogue to show the story, not as filler information. Again, natural conversation can do wonders to say was would otherwise become fluff and filler.
- Writing only conversation – People are real and seldom stand still while talking. They are physical and conversations need to be broken up by some description. Make your character pick up a cup of coffee, walk across the room, peek out a window behind a blind, cough; anything that would break up straight conversation.
- Overdoing dialogue tags – Stick to the tried and true, “he said” “she said”. Adjectives are not always necessary if you’ve written the dialogue right to begin with. Use them sparingly.
When writing a natural conversation, you will find that you write with a certain indirectness. The dialogue will leave some questions to things we don’t want to hit head on. This is good for the readers. It draws them in, makes them eavesdroppers, gives them mysteries to solve, suspicions to confirm.
Here are some great resources:
The Book of Dialogue: How to Write Effective Conversation
Stephen King: On Writing
Top 10 Books with the Best Dialogue
Writing Dialogue: The 5 Best Ways to Make Your Characters’ Conversations Seem Real
Do you have any techniques that you’ve found helpful? Or a source that you’ve used to help perfect your dialogue building? Leave a comment and share it with the rest of us! We’d love to hear it.
Thanks for stopping in.
Until next time, I wish you all the best in your writing success.