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Dialogue is something that I can struggle with from time to time. It’s something that a lot of writers struggle with. When you’re writing for someone else, even though you’re likely writing fictional characters, it’s hard not to fall into patterns where your dialogue is just how you speak. Even when I read the works of peers that I happen to actually know, it’s sometimes hard to not hear their voices when you go through it. Dialogue is a tough thing to master.
But the good thing is that you can practice and learn tips and tricks that will ultimately help you become better at writing your dialogue.
For me, while all of my characters are fictional and not based on anyone in particular, I like to think of certain people to base their dialogue and interactions on. For instance, with my story ParaNorthern, I wanted Hannah’s dialogue and interactions to be wholesome and innocent. She brings a lightheartedness to those around her and even when her friends are annoyed at her or she’s annoyed at them, she’s always finding a silver lining to the situation. Because of that, there was no better person in my life to base her interactions on than my friend Liz. Liz is sunshine personified and the only word I could ever describe her as is delightful. She brings warmth and compassion to every conversation she’s in, and when I thought of Hannah and how to make her voice unique, I knew it had to be based around Liz.
Like I said, the character herself isn’t necessarily based on Liz, but when Hannah has to make a decision in the story or has a moment with another one of the characters, I ask myself, how would Liz interact in this scenario? What sort of spin would she put on this? What words are a part of her regular vocabulary that aren’t as used in mine?
It doesn’t have to be based on someone you know. Maybe it’s based on the cadence of another fictional character that you’ve drawn inspiration from. Maybe it’s a family member. And maybe you don’t use this method at all. But for me, I find it incredibly helpful to have a frame of reference to use when it comes to building unique dialogue.
Another piece of advice that I often hear from other writers is to say your dialogue out loud. You can even try it out with another person to see how the back and forth is in real life. I could never bring myself to have another person do the dialogue with me, but I do read things out loud to help process.
This helps with stuff like natural speech patterns. Typically a person that knows someone really well wouldn’t say their name a ton when they’re talking to them. Like, my best friend wouldn’t be sitting at dinner with me constantly ending a sentence by adding my name to it. “How was your day, Stephanie?” or “Wow, that’s really exciting that you’re doing that, Stephanie!” or whatever. People that know each other well tend to use nicknames or just skip that formality altogether as a conversation continues. Watching out for little things like that can help make your dialogue more natural sounding overall.