(reblogged from The Write Practice)
It made a generation fall in love with Gilmore Girls, and almost destroyed Star Wars Episodes 1, 2, and 3.
Dialogue can make or break a story. When it is good, we are joyfully entangled in it. When it is bad, the story can be painful to read.
To spice it up, we will often turn to descriptors—adjectives and adverbs the convey the emotion we hope the reader will hear. But these “ly” words can break a reader’s flow, making our story feel disjointed.
Never fear! There is hope! If we start with a good foundation and sprinkle some action, we can write dialogue that sings.
Here are three steps to crafting vivid, believable dialogue:
Step One: Start with a Firm Foundation
Building dialogue in your story is like building a Lego castle. You do it one brick at a time, and every brick matters. Like Crissle from the Read says, “Words mean things.”
Step one in writing great dialogue is picking the right words. A red brick in a yellow wall stands out, so we need to make sure the placement of things that catch the eye is intentional. Two sentences that express the same sentiment may carry very different emotional charges depending on how the words are constructed.
For example, let’s say I wanted to ask you how your day was. Here are five ways I might ask, each with a different emotional feel.
“Welcome home. How was work?”
“How’d it go today?”
“Did you survive?”
To continue the example, let’s say you wanted to respond back and tell me there was nothing special about the day. Here are five ways you could convey that to me with different emotional tones.
“What do you want me to say? It was work.”
“Nothing to report.”
“I’m not sure what you want me to say. It was just a normal day.”
“Why do you ask?”
A trick to help you decide if you have the right words
During the day, when I’m not writing fiction, I write for a company that simulates difficult conversations. When we (the writing team) are working on dialogue, we will often say to each other, “Put it in your mouth.”
Different phrases will feel different coming off your tongue.
For example, read the five sentences I wrote above. Pay attention to your natural intonation. Did they feel different?