Dialogue is an extremely important aspect of your story. In general, it should usually take up about half of your book. It provides needed white-space for readers, which gives their eyes a break and helps to keep them reading. It should move the plot forward or develop character (don’t use filler). The main thing to focus on is that it isn’t monotone or overdone. Your characters shouldn’t sound like emotionless drones, but the reader also doesn’t need to know every detail of their expressions.
Try to include some kind of description of action, tone/voice, or expression in most pieces of dialogue. You don’t need it for all of your dialogue, but there should be enough that the reader has a clear and vivid description of the conversation taking place. For an example of describing action, you might say: “He said, wrapping her in a hug.”. For tone/voice, you might say: “She said, her voice tight.” or “She said, her tone hopeful.”. For expression, you might say: “She said, a confused expression on her face.” or “She said, eyebrows narrowed and lip twitched in annoyance.”. There are many ways to add descriptions to dialogue, and if you’re an underwriter like myself, it will help with raising word-count.
Now, I’m not one of those die-hard “adverbs are a disgrace to humanity” writers, but I do believe you should try to minimize them, especially in dialogue. With dialogue I tend to try and avoid adverbs altogether. They often sound clumsy and awkward, and don’t really paint a picture of what is going on. Instead of “She said, happily.”, try “She said, a grin stretching across her face.”. This gives the reader a visual and helps them to feel more deeply with the scene.
When it comes to speech tags, I tend to avoid using too many tags other than “said”. As a reader, you don’t really notice “said” tags, which makes the dialogue flow smoother. If the author adds in too many other tags (e.g. “She gasped”) it can distract from the scene and take away from the emotion. For example, if writing a whole sentence and using the tag “He giggled”, was he giggling that whole sentence? Instead, you could try: “He said, a giggle escaping from his mouth.”. There are plenty of descriptions you can use instead of these tags.
There are plenty of cliches used in dialogue that make readers roll their eyes, or even put down a book. Too many times they have heard “You fools!” and “Save yourselves!”. Try to create unique dialogue that is personal to the story. Make it true to the plot and characters. Research the cultures and ages of your characters to avoid stereotypes and make the characters realistic. As a teenager myself, I can find it either laughable or insulting when I come across stereotypical teen dialogue. I plan to do a separate piece on this, however.
This also comes back to the need for research. I’ve noticed that when writing antagonists or past-settings, many authors tend to just avoid contractions. This just makes the dialogue sound stiff and robotic. There was slang, even thousands of years ago. They used contractions, in some cases more than we do. Where and when is your antagonist from, or where and when is your story set? Research it. Read books set in that time if possible.
Not all characters should talk the same, because not all people talk the same. Education, region, culture, and upbringing all have an influence on how somebody speaks. Somebody raised with a rich family that gave them high education and was strict about proper grammar would speak differently than somebody from a poor neighbourhood that never focused much on school. Somebody from the city would speak differently than somebody from the country. Somebody that was from another country would likely have an accent as opposed to somebody born in the country. The list goes on.
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With all of this in mind, go out and write your masterpiece!