Oddly enough, I've found watching youtube videos to be MOST helpful here! When people are recorded in a natural setting as opposed to a movie or an instructional video, you get a great look at word choice and body language. In fact, I just posted a snippet of dialogue from my in-progress novel on my blog. [link]
I completely understand that. It is just when the dialogue becomes too much or when it doesn't sound like an actual conversation. I'm working around the issue, reading and rereading my previous text to assure myself that it doesn't sound, well...too choppy or just bad dialogue. In this case the old cliche comes in handy, "practice makes perfect."
Yes, yes there is. Thank you very much and I understand that it is irritating to hear about such petty issues that entail common sense, but I just was hoping to get a correlation that might hold some cipher to a hidden chasm of literary knowledge or, you know just some positive advice.
Raven the most important point that hasn't been mentioned (i cant believe it), is after you write the dialogues, don't look at it for an hour and the reread the chapter out loud and see it flows or not. This not only helps with stories but with all written tasks, you wouldn't believe the changes ive made after rereading it after a break
If you're not catching those ridiculous flaws, how do you know they're there?
However it is you eventually find out about them--reading through months later, reading aloud, getting someone else to read the thing--do some more of that. It's guaranteed to work for you!
As an extra suggestion, I find text-to-speech to be helpful for all kinds of problems. Okay, it always sounds terrible, but it'll make the genuinely awful things a lot easier to spot. Talking heads, for example, turn into some kind of hideous robotic monologue: easy to miss on the page, but impossible to ignore when your computer is droning on at you.
Ah, now that could be troublesome. I think some of the suggestions based around listening to real people (or maybe seeing how it's done well in other books) might be helpful, but personally I don't feel like dialogue is one of my strong points either. Best of luck!
Listen to real people talk, that's the best place to start. The only trick to translating it is to remove verbal tics like "um" and so on. Don't just listen to what they're saying, pay attention to the sound of the voices, the pauses, etc. Look at the way they use their bodies or faces when they talk; this kind of stuff can fill in valuable details and help your story read less like a screenplay or something.
You can also watch TV and movies, the caveat being that it is more stylized. But the stylization can also make it easier to pick up on the rhythms and also figure out how to cut out the dross.
And, like any other writing problem, you can also read. Think of a writer you like who's especially good at dialogue. What do they do that makes the dialogue seem fluid and natural. Plays are equally good to read, though you'll want something more contemporary, not Shakespeare.
Since everyone here has stated that you should observe people talk (I wanted to post it too but it would be too redundant), there's another you should take note of. You should try to observe how you talk and how you engage with other people. By doing that, you can start being conscious of your own dialogues and you can speculate from there how your characters would speak based on their personalities.
My writing professor taught me one of the golden rules of dialogue is to have the characters subtly talk around each other or to answer to the side of questions. A (probably crap but you get the point) example of this would be something along the lines of:
"Has the parcel arrived yet?"
"Deliveries aren't made on Sundays."
That's not the best example but it still demonstrates my point as the second person isn't directly answering the first but still answering the question... If you get what I mean.
Also, good dialogue is written as if the characters had 30 seconds to think about their answer - so keep that in mind. Another tip is to only include what is important - ask yourself; is this dialogue developing or at least showing the audience more of my characters? Is it moving the storyline along? etc, etc.
I understand where you are coming from, but I feel as if some conversations are simply unable to be beaten around the bush. Thank you so much for the advice. I'm going to put everything to work and see if it truly develops my writing.
If I was to suggest anything at all to this, it would be to get into the mind set of your characters. Turn into your character as you write their dialogue. Feel what they feel, love what they love, know what they know.
To make it believable, it has to be believable to you
Husband: “Darling, how long have we been married now?”
Wife: “Silly, it’s been 20 years. Remember Hawaii—the North Shore?”
Husband: “Oh yeah, that little honeymoon cottage.”
When your characters seem to be speaking more to the audience than to each other, you are being obvious. When two characters tell each other things they both already know, that’s almost always “obvious exposition.” Allow exposition to emerge naturally in the context of the story; don’t force anything.
I recently read a script where every single character used the f-bomb in most of their speeches. It gave me the impression that the screenwriter lacked imagination and/or did not understand his characters enough to know how they talked and/or was exaggerating the emotions of the characters to compensate for weak motivation or story context.
Oh, and by the way, just one exclamation point is plenty; and you may not need the one. In Shawshank Redemption, the warden approaches Andy who is in solitary confinement. He tells Andy that the man who could prove his innocence is dead. Andy tells the warden to have H&R Block do his taxes; he’s done. Then, in the screenplay, the warden yells at Andy; but in the movie, the warden’s speech is whispered with intensity. The movie version is more effective.
Most writers have a tendency to exaggerate character emotions. I remember recently explaining to a writer that five of her characters sobbed at various times in the script. That’s overwriting. Sometimes, trying to control emotion has more impact than actually expressing emotion.
3. Derivative dialogue.
Avoid clichés and lines we’ve heard in other movies. An occasional allusion to another movie or literary work can be effective, but I’ve already heard “We’re not in Kansas anymore” at least a hundred times (or so it seems).
4. Everyday pleasantries.
Bill: “How are you?”
Bill: “How’s the dog these days?”
Sue: “Getting along great.”
Boring. Avoid chit-chat, unless it is original and interesting. (See #7 below.)
On rare occasions, there can be a dramatic purpose for such talk. Recall the scene in Fatal Attraction when the Michael Douglas character walks into his home and sees his wife talking to his lover. At this point,his wife does not know about his affair. Then, his wife makes formal introductions.
Dan (Michael Douglas): “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Alex (Glenn Close): “…Oh, we’ve definitely met.”
This is one of the rare instances where chit-chat is dramatic and suspenseful.
5. Unnecessary repetition.
Repeating a particular phrase or line can be effective, as with “Here’s looking at you, Kid” in Casablanca. One instance sets up the next.
The kind of repetition that seldom works dramatically is repeating information the audience already heard a couple of scenes ago. It creates a sense of stasis, and the story feels like it’s dragging.
6. No room for subtext.
This is obvious writing, but in a different sense than with #1 above. Here we have characters saying precisely what they are thinking or feeling. In other words, the subtext is stated rather than implied.
Generally, you’re best off having characters beat around the bush, imply their meaning, speak metaphorically, say one thing by saying something else, or use the double entendre.
No, you don’t need room for subtext in every single speech.
7. Unoriginal speeches.
This is similar to #3, but it has a different dimension. When a character’s speeches could be delivered by any character in the screenplay, you have a problem. I am referring to typical, ordinary, expected lines that virtually anyone could have said and that have little originality.
In addition, when you characters speak far too often in complete sentences, they are likely saying your words rather than their words. Giving your characters their own voices will strengthen your voice as a writer."