In Erin Healy's 2011 ACFW session "Sometimes Its Better to Show Than Tell", Erin shared one of co-writer Ted Dekker's scene secrets. He never starts with a character alone. It helps to keep his scenes moving insanely fast. I have read two Dekker novels and can vouch these are definitely up all night reads.
As we edit our manuscripts, working on dialogue can really make a difference in the manuscript. Good dialogue can change the pace, better reveal our characters, up the conflict, and in general build interest. All novels center in some way on the relationship between others, just as relationships with God and others make up the core of our everyday lives.
Here are some dialogue tips that have helped me along the way:
1) Listen, listen, listen.
Listen to people in various situations. Force yourself to slow down.
Pay attention to the local differences, think of the old "coke"/"soda" debate. There are so many subtle things that we ignore. Note the way your Canadian friend's accent changes when she talks to her British relatives. Accent, phrases, slang all change.
2) What isn't said is crucial.
Is your character a blabbermouth apt to share everything on his or her mind?
Are they introspective? They may not tend to share a lot of crucial information in the dialogue.
Note that what we do and what we don't say is very different depending on whom we are conversing. Does your character trust the other person in the room? How is that going to affect their conversation?
Think about the levels of relationship between each of the characters. How will it affect their interactions?
How will a main character talk to a domineering father? A loving husband? A distant ex-spouse? Their childhood best friend?
3) Consider dialect very carefully.
Have you ever put down a book because of dialect so unrealistic it made you groan in agony?
Even worse, I've read books where the dialect is very stereotyped to the point where I found it offensive. Even racist.
Yet there are other times where I have found the dialect was a liability in providing likeability for the characters.
I recently heard an author say that dialect should be used more and more sparingly as the novel continues because the reader will self-correct as they are reading. They will create a proper dialect that fits the character in their own mind.
4) Reader's theatre.
Ask a spouse or family member to read the dialogue with you.
Quickest way to find errors, in my opinion.
Did you start cringing? Time to change that line. Often its a simple case of removing a few words here and there. Often we speak in simple short sentences, but we over articulate when putting it on the page.
A few simple changes can make a world of difference in weeding out those pesky dialogue errors.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to dialogue (in other authors or in your own manuscripts)? What has helped you in improving your own dialogue?
Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.