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How to write realistic dialog?


Writing dialog is easy. Writing realistic dialog, now that’s tough. If you listen to the way people talk, and then try to write it, their conversation sounds odd, stilted, and boring. There are lots of ah’s, ya’ knows, and other mannerisms that don’t’ need to become part of your dialog. The art in writing dialog is to impart the necessary information in an interesting way that moves your book forward.

The dialog sequences in my most recent cyber warfare thriller, Man of Honor, are usually brief. They take place in the midst of action. Questions asked by one character are sometimes answered with something completely unrelated but that says something about the relationship between the two apart from the action surrounding them.

In my current project, Barbara Anne’s Slider (a rescue novel about the aftermath from an active shooter event at a Florida high school) I quickly deepen my reader’s engagement in the principal characters by transitioning from dialog about what they’re doing to who these characters really are. At the deepest point of this dialog I have one character understand that the other is a brilliant genius, a major league prospect, or a real SOB. Whatever it is, now—thru dialog—readers know and appreciate something about these two that they didn’t know before. These revelations come only in the major scenes—that’s what makes them major.

Being a rescue book, Slider, deals with a lot of moral outrage and deep, changing values in the characters. Realistic dialog furthers that need when two characters talk about a given plan of action. One objects, pointing out how it could go south and injure someone. The back and forth of attack and defense of the contemplated action pulls readers into the moral dilemma these characters face. They begin to understand just where their moral compass is pointed. It becomes much more than just dialog about a decision and more about how they want to live their lives and the kind of people they want to become.

I like dialog. I use it often to drive the story and reveal who the characters are. To me, it’s so much more interesting than just having the author’s summary of events.

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© 2017 by Chris Shima