Three Tips For Realistic Dialogue

by The Magic Violinist | 23 comments

Every writer cringes a little when reading terrible dialogue. I know I do. Don't you just hate the stiff, awkward characters who speak formally no matter the situation? It's awful. But what if we're those writers? Here are three tips to avoid that

Talking

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

1. Read it out loud

This is a big one, and a simple one, too. While reading it in your head may help, nothing compares to reading the dialogue out loud. This goes for anything you write. It'll sound different when it's read out loud. Try it out for yourself.

2. Pay attention

Next time you're having a conversation with someone, pay attention to how they talk. Listen to how you talk. Nothing is more realistic than actual dialogue. If you have a hard time focusing on talking while paying attention to how you're both talking, listen in on a conversation happening nearby.

3. Ask a friend

A second set of eyes is your best friend. You'll always be a little biased with your own work, but a critique partner or an honest friend won't hesitate to help you make some adjustments. I don't know what I'd do without my own critique partners.

PRACTICE

Write a script for fifteen minutes and really focus on how the dialogue sounds. If you'd like, post your practice in the comments. Be sure to leave your fellow writers a comment!

The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she's homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).

23 Comments

  1. Rob Skidmore

    Here’s my contribution. 🙂

    “Cheese”, she said, “Is my favorite flavor.
    Cheddar, Colby, Pepper Jack, even the ones with the weird names like Havarti,
    Gorgonzola, and Muenster.”

    “Technically that is a lot of flavors,” I said.

    If she heard me she didn’t show it.

    “I like it with crackers, on sandwiches with tomatoes
    and cucumbers and avocado. Oh, and it makes a great fondue.”

    “Mmm yes,” I said, fondly recalling family holidays huddled
    around the boiling cheese pot.

    “I tried making my own cheese once, you know. Didn’t turn
    out so well. Cheese is supposed to be like wine, it gets better with age. The recipe said you had to let it sit for 60
    days. So I put it under the kitchen sink. Not the first place most people would
    think of as a place to put cheese. But in my apartment it is right next to the
    furnace and I thought that it would keep it nice and warm because who doesn’t
    like toasted cheese?”

    She looked up at me questioningly.

    I nodded since I didn’t know what else to say and I did like
    toasted cheese.

    Reply
    • catmorrell

      Still chuckling over the sink and toasted cheese.

    • themagicviolinist

      Loved the ending! 🙂 I’m not sure I would’ve known what to say, either. I had no idea a conversation about cheese could be so much fun to read!

  2. R.w. Foster

    A pure dialog exercise. I hope y’all can follow along.

    ***

    “I did as you asked, Granddad.”

    “How did it, go, my boy?”

    “How you thought it would. She’s not in love with me.”

    “What did you say?”

    “I told her that I was going to try to get her to fall in love with me.”

    “And?”

    “She said don’t. Be who I am.”

    “Then that’s the end of the relationship. It’s not going to go any further.”

    “Cynical much, Granddad?”

    “Has she talked about the future with you?”

    “Well… no.”

    “You see?”

    “But she says she’s scared.”

    “Let me guess: She doesn’t want to hurt you.”

    “Um.”

    “As I said, my boy, your relationship with her isn’t going to go any further.”

    “But… I’m in love with her.”

    “I know. And it’s hard to realize that the one who matters the most to you doesn’t feel the same. Now you can move forward and find someone who would love you the way you love her.”

    “I don’t think that will happen.”

    “With that attitude, it won’t.”

    “What do I do, Granddad?”

    “Here, wipe your face. There’s no point in crying over it. I know it hurts, but you can’t force someone to love you.”

    “I know. But what should I do?”

    “What do you want to do?”

    “I want to do whatever it takes to win her.”

    “How long have you been wooing her again?”

    “Almost a year.”

    “And you’ve gotten no further than her saying ‘I love you.’ She won’t talk about a future with the two of you because she doesn’t see one with the two of you together.”

    “How do you know?”

    “Have you talked about the future with her?”

    “Yes. Many times.”

    “And how did she react?”

    “She said it sounded nice.”

    “No, how did she sound? Was there any enthusiasm?”

    “No, Granddad.”

    “Sounds like she told you how she was feeling about the two of you being together.”

    “Then why did she tell me that she loved me?”

    “Why did she say it in the first place? Did you ever ask her?”

    “She said it was something I needed to hear.”

    “That’s telling.”

    “I’ve been an idiot, huh?”

    “Not at all, my boy. You’ve been in love. There’s nothing wrong with taking a risk. It shows you what kind of person you are.”

    “I’m not going to put myself out there like this again. It hurts too much.”

    “I never took you for a coward, my boy. I thought you were a man.”

    “I am, Granddad.”

    “A man wouldn’t allow a set back to keep him down.”

    “…”

    “Would he?”

    “No, sir.”

    “What did you learn from this?”

    “I’ve learned to listen to what isn’t said, as well as what is.”

    “Very good. Now go wash up. Grandmom has dinner ready.”

    “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

    “You’re welcome, my boy. It’s what grandfather’s are for.”

    Reply
    • catmorrell

      I know these people, the cadence and the attitude. This felt very real to me. I hope he is able to talk to her truthfully now.

    • R.w. Foster

      I think he was being truthful with her. I think maybe she was not being truthful with him. At least, not fully. Glad you like it.

    • themagicviolinist

      This is something I could easily visualize in my head, even though it was just dialogue (which is awesome, by the way). You slipped in little details easily without having to resort to description, such as, “Here, wipe your face. There’s no point in crying over it.” would maybe imply that the grandfather just offered him tissues. And the “…” made me think of the boy looking down at his shoes, ashamed. Great job! 🙂

    • R.w. Foster

      Thanks. I’m glad you liked it. It’s from an exercise I challenged myself to do after reading a friend’s writing assistance book.

  3. catmorrell

    Here is my sample for NaNo

    ***

    “I want to hike the Tetons” Cliff said as he steered the RV around a pot hole.

    Maggies coffee sloshed over the side of the cup. “You are sixty three years old. Get a grip.”

    “What’s the point of a road trip without adventure, without risk. Besides what could go wrong? I have the cell phone. A helicopter would pick me up. I wonder if Harrison Ford is still flying rescue missions?

    Maggie twirled her finger in the spilled coffee rolling around the table top. “Well, I’m not going out in that frigid weather and neither is Skippy.”

    “Thought you had a thing for Harrison Ford.”

    “I do. Maybe when you freeze your wrinkly old ass off I can hook up with him.”

    Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      I like the small actions mixed in with the dialogue (Maggie twirled her finger, Coffee sloshed over the side of the cup, etc.), and I thought the dialogue itself was very natural and believable.

    • catmorrell

      Thank you. I have always wrote description, but only started writing dialog three years ago.

  4. David Saleeba

    Here’s my practice:

    Ernest was squirming in his chair. “I just can’t write convincing dialogue,
    Mark.”

    “Yeah, I was thinking that. I just didn’t want to tell you.”

    “Dude!”

    Mark knew he’d cut pretty deep with that and tried to recover with, “Hey, writing just ain’t your thing, bro.” Ooh. Not such a good recovery, judging from the look on Ernest’s face.

    “I thought you said I had talent! Freshman year? You said I was a “rising star”? Ring a bell, amigo?”

    “No, no… don’t get me wrong. You could be good… you’re just doing other writer-y things without, y’know, actually working on your writing.”

    “Like what?”

    “Bro, you’re totally fake! You’ve got this appearance thing down, but you never write anything. You never do anything to actually try to write. You could start with maybe, like, practicing for fifteen minutes.“ This was liberating. Mark was
    feeling that he would either light a spark under Ernest and maybe get some rent money, or not have to go through with kicking him out like his girlfriend
    wanted.

    “Mark, man- Did Edith put you up to this? I’ve told her time and time again the whole walking-in-the-bathroom-while-she-was-showering thing was an accident!”

    “Ernest, you did it twice. And no, that’s not it at all, man. I want you to do well- I really do, but just because you drink whiskey and act the fool at parties and stuff…”

    Ernest cut Mark off, “I get it.”

    “You do?”

    “Yeah. I know the ‘writers drink whiskey’ thing is old school and lame.
    I just don’t like coffee though.”

    “Get out, Ernest. Just get out of my face for a minute.”

    Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      LOVED this! 😀 This sounds like such a normal (and funny) conversation between two roommates. You not only made it realistic, you made it interesting! 🙂

  5. The Cody

    I edited part of a WIP for practice:

    “Your favorite number is like a wavy leaf with red veins.”

    Dominic paused, fork lifted halfway to his mouth. “What?”

    “That’s what your number looks like to me,” said Anna.

    “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Dominic worried he had zoned out again and missed something.

    “I see numbers in my head,” she explained. “It’s something I was born with. Every number less than, say, ten duodecillion, has a unique shape.”

    “You see shapes for numbers,” he said, flatly. “Aren’t you just filling your head with visuals because you’re blind? I could picture random shapes, too.” He closed his eyes. “The number eight hundred and twelve is a giraffe with purple stripes.”

    Anna laughed. “Wow, that was harsh.” She shoved another bite of salmon into her mouth. “For your information, I had this condition before I was blind. Also for your information, the number eight hundred and twelve is a skewed orange rectangle with jutting edges.”

    Dominic smiled and asked, “So what’s your favorite number?” He was clearly
    patronizing her, but she said, “Seventeen.”

    “I figured it would be something like fourteen million and eight. Why seventeen?”

    “Because it’s an apeirogon, made up of yellow and green swirls.”

    “OK say I believe you, which I don’t. What good are these shapes? Do they serve a purpose?”

    “Don’t be dumb. Of course they do. Otherwise, they’d be worthless.”

    “My point exactly.”

    She set her own fork down and straightened up as if preparing for a presentation she’d given a hundred times.

    “It’s hard to explain why, but mathematics is easy to me, because of the shapes. The process of multiplication, division and the like are automatic. Somehow the shapes morph together into the resulting shape on their own. I just have to watch.”

    Dominic let out a solitary laugh then realized she was serious.

    “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

    “Try me,” she said.

    “Really?”

    “Sure. If it were me, I’d want proof.”

    Dominic rolled his eyes, but said, “OK, multiply three thousand two-hundred
    and eighty times one thousand and twenty four.”

    Anna’s eyeballs rolled up into her head.

    “OK three thousand two-hundred and eighty is a bluish mustache and one thousand twenty-four is a like a flowerless stem. The product is a series of red and yellow stripes, which is three million three hundred fifty eight thousand seven hundred and twenty.”

    Without taking his eyes off her, Dominic got up and walked to the cashier. Grabbing a pen and scrap paper, he performed the calculation. Then he walked back, slammed his hands down on the table and began looking around.

    “Who’s feeding you the answer?”

    Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      Love the ending. 😉

      This was a very interesting read and a unique premise. I was hooked the whole way through! The dialogue was fun to read. 🙂

  6. Katie Hamer

    MV, love this post. This is really timely, in my case, as I’ve just starting thinking about how I can make my dialogue come alive on the page. I’m book-marking it for later 🙂

    Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      Glad I could help! 🙂

  7. Gahe

    Very impressive article. I have read each and every point and found it very interesting

    Reply
    • themagicviolinist

      Thank you. 🙂

  8. themagicviolinist

    Sorry for the delay in comments, everybody! Blame NaNo. 😉

    Reply
    • catmorrell

      Love NaNo. I only made it to 25,000 because of a new job. but that is 25,000 more than I would have written. Hope you made you 50,000+.

    • themagicviolinist

      50,000+ for me. 🙂 (But I didn’t have a new job, so I had more time).

      Great way to put it! I’d love to have a pile of 25,000 words to work with.

    • catmorrell

      LOL yes I am ready for Camp NaNo

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. » The OutRamp Guide to Writing: Episode #10 - The OutRamp - […] Magic Violinist (The Write Practice) with Three Tips For Realistic Dialogue […]
  2. » The OutRamp Writer’s Wroundup Newsletter #2: November 29 – December 1, 2013 - The OutRamp - […] Magic Violinist (The Write Practice) with Three Tips For Realistic Dialogue […]

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