Writing dialogue: the ins and outs

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about writing dialogue…

Are you a novelist faced with writing dialogue?

If so, you almost certainly know that dialogue on the page bears little resemblance to dialogue in real life.

You need to perform a delicate two-step when writing dialogue. It needs to sound realistic — like something a living, breathing human might actually say — and, at the same time, it also needs to be utterly different from typical speech. (Characters in fiction are much more articulate than most of us in real life.)

I recently read an interesting post on writing dialogue, on the Write It Sideways blog. Written by Richard Thomas, who taught English and American Literature and Language at Harvard for eight years, the post ran under the headline, “Why NOT Listening is Key to Writing Dialogue.” 

Here is part of what Thomas says:

“We strive and stylize, aiming for punchy lines that “jump out from the page.” But in so doing, we make dialogue seem artificial, overwritten and self-conscious.

“This is one of two intertwined mistakes that creep into fictional dialogue. The second, far more important, mistake is that we fail to notice or include one of the aspects of real-life dialogue that truly does bring it to life:

“The fact that, in most live conversations, people are not listening. They are not understanding, and are not responding in a way that others find satisfying.

“Far more than punchy lines and clever retorts, well-crafted dialogue will show people simply not listening.”

To learn more about writing dialogue, read the entire post. Thomas offers some excellent examples.

Oh, and be sure to read your dialogue aloud before finishing editing. You want to make sure it sounds realistic to the human ear.

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