Engaging Dialogue

When you’re reading a book, does dialogue sometimes leap out of the page, for the wrong reason?   I know I wrote about dialogue recently, but it is something that is important to me in books.

Good dialogue is wonderful to read, and brings the characters to life when well written. You definitely want your readers to be crying with emotion, not in laughter at dire dialogue!

What are the things that upset you about bad dialogue?

5 Things that upset me about dialogue

  1. When the way people speak doesn’t match their character. By that I mean, if someone is writing a contemporary book, and the characters are English, and middle-aged or younger, then when I read something like:

          “Surely, you did not think that I was going to do that? I had not even considered that option.”

          To me that sounds stilted, because of the full use of ‘did not’ and ‘had not’. Most people during conversations, unless they are very well-spoken,                use the contractions.

         “Surely, you didn’t think I was going to do that? I hadn’t even considered that option.”

          It’s a very tiny difference but when you read a whole story and the characters keep using the long version, it just laboured and old fashioned. Also,            when the longer versions of cannot, would not etc are used throughout the entire book, generally to my ears, it sounds old fashioned.

  1. I expect my characters to use some slang, or even swear words, if they are real people. Again, it depends on their background and age, but then I know many older people who still swear – myself included.

           The words need to be correct for the context and character, and for the intended readers.

           If a working man hits himself with a hammer, he is very unlikely to say “Oh dear, that hurt.” He’s far more likely to curse.

           Whereas, a very, well-to-do woman, who is a prude would probably cry out and say, “Ow! that was incredibly painful.”

  1. Over use of someone’s name can become very annoying, and confusing if you’re not careful.

          “Jane, did you manage to find John?” Sean asked. “I thought I saw John leave just before you did, but Jane, you should have told me you were                   looking for John, and I could have told you where John was.”

  1. Sometimes, characters need to ask a direct question, however…

          “Did you see Uncle John?”

          “Yes, I did see Uncle John.”

          “Did you ask him about Aunty Jean?”

          “No, she wasn’t there.”

          This is very sedentary.  You can easily have the same conversation in a much more natural way.

          “Did you see Uncle John and Aunty Jean? Were they okay?”

           “Yes, Uncle John was fine, but Aunty was out.”

  1. Dialogue tags are best kept simple. There are times when it is obvious when someone is speaking and you don’t need to name them, but if you do, use asked and said.

          The words spoken should tell you ‘how’ the sentence should sound, or how it makes the person feel. You don’t need verbs such as ‘encouraged’               or ‘movtivated’

           So, it’s fine to write:

         “He encouraged to jump over the gate.” her with promises of chocolate cake’, but

         “How about jumping over the gate” he motivated – is just awful.

         “I don’t know their current location, but I’ll find out for you, my love” Jeff said lovingly.

           We already know he loves her, so he’s unlikely to be saying it in a hateful way! 

       “We can’t thank you enough, Sarah. I don’t know what we’d have done without you being here to support us through this terrible time”, humbly said            Edith.

         How do you humbly say something? Edith was feeling humbled by how Sarah had helped, but it doesn’t work how it’s used here.

        Don’t overuse adverbs, they need to be used sparingly.

        Lastly, always, read your dialogue aloud. Does it sound realistic, does it flow? Is it how real people speak?