Is Dialogue Really that Hard?

Periodically posts pop up, tweets are sent out, or an agent gives a blurb at a conference on dialogue. They all reiterate similar rules but then add a different spin. The one theme is that, most people seem to struggle in dialogue. Is it really that hard?

I talk – I talk a lot. I think I get how people sound because I listen. My characters are no different than someone on the street. I hear them. I listen to them. I write what they would say. But apparently that is not really the case for most people. What makes dialogue hard?

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I started to read a new book today and contrary to the authors other books this one had very strained dialogue. Conversations don’t flow. Each character has a short line that seems to abruptly end. How do I start to like the characters when they seem like body snatchers learning to act like humans?

What does over doing it mean? I have had one person in five years say that to me. “Watch that you don’t over do the dialogue.” I couldn’t decide if that meant I had too much or if it meant that I had some forced lines. So because I have yet to figure it out, I re-read and simplified. I added a few more lines, actions, or thoughts between every-so-many lines of dialogue. I removed any dialogue that just maybe I didn’t love. Did I fix it? Who knows.

When it comes to dialogue I would sit in a public area and listen. Find two people who act like your characters. Yeah, okay think your characters are one of a kind- but remember you created them off of something. In the end read your dialogue after stepping away for a few days or weeks. Can you tell who is saying what? Each character has a distance way of talking. If they don’t you might have an issue…unless they are clones of course.

How do you create dialogue? Are there any fast and steady rules that you follow?

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4 thoughts on “Is Dialogue Really that Hard?

  1. Jess says:

    A lot of writers get hung up on how the dialogue is going to end up sounding in someone else’s head—not how it actually SOUNDS.

    I’ve found reading the dialogue out loud once it’s written very helpful in terms of ironing out the parts that don’t feel real or sound like anything someone would actually say.

    Sure, you might feel silly doing it (especially if you live with other people who will inevitably hear your voice booming out from behind closed doors and ask, WTF?), but if the words don’t fit comfortably in the mouth, they’re not going to work on the page.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I don’t ever feel silly… Granted my family is used to hearing me tall to myself. 🙂 I agree, reading out loud is sometimes the best way to find awkward sentences. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Nicki Mann says:

    One thing I notice a lot… and find myself doing sometimes… is when characters give long speeches to each other. Usually in real life people don’t give a huge twenty minute talk while their friend listens calmly… although it does happen a lot in Gray’s Anatomy! I have to work on avoiding using dialogue as a crutch to explain things, such as having a character describe his life story.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      What? No one gives a soap-box speech? Don’t tell my father 🙂 I notice myself doing long stints of dialogue and having to add some actions in. I think we all have some bad habits.

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