Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. For example, I tend to skimp on descriptions, but I write decent dialogue. For a while, I didn’t realize it was decent; I just knew I enjoyed writing it. But when I started to show my writing to people, they would comment on my dialogue: smiley faces, or “good line”, or “How do you write good dialogue? You don’t talk.” Yes, someone really said that last one to me.
I would like to state for the record that I do talk, just not a lot. I am an introvert and shy to boot. Although I may be sparing in my speech, I observe and listen. Not in a creepy, eavesdropping way—though I have been known to eavesdrop from time to time. Quiet doesn’t mean thoughtless.
Next time you’re out, either with friends or sitting on the bus, stop and listen. Notice the similarities and differences in people’s speech. Or how the same person may speak differently when speaking to two different people. Here are some questions to consider when you reflect on the conversations you (innocently) overhear:
- What does their more “formal” speech sound like? How about more “casual”?
- Do they finish their sentences or let them trail off?
- How much do they leave the other person to infer from context, and how much do they explicitly explain?
- Are they talking around something or getting straight to the point?
- When are people interrupted? How? And by whom?
- What do people respond to (either words or something else like body language or an external event)?
- How do people summarize their past conversations or situations?
There are so many questions to consider when writing dialogue, and those don’t even get into the extras of body language or the quality of the voice. So, next time you have a conversation or hear one, notice the words and the order in which they are put. Pay attention to the language. Once you’re comfortable and confident with that, try to hold all of that in your head while also taking note of the extras, like gestures and facial expressions.