The Hi Susan letters are filling my e-mail so let’s dive into another one. This was sent by Ashley who wrote-
I had a bunch of beta readers look at my manuscript and each person had the same comment, my dialogue stinks. Is there anyway I can improve that skill?
Absolutely, anything that’s your Achilles’ heel can be worked on and perfected.
If like Ashley, dialogue is your weakness, here are a few tips to help-
Don’t avoid or put off practicing the skill. I knew that description was my Achilles’ heel so I used to spend ten minutes each day just writing a description of things I saw in the room or outside. With dialogue, sit down and take two characters and have them hold a conversation about any topic of your choosing. Don’t worry if the first weeks or even months still produce not so great dialogue because the more you do something, the better you get. You also build more confidence too.
Take a trip to the local coffee shop, buy a drink, sit there and pretend your reading (or even writing), but you’re not really doing either of those things. You’re there to listen to real people talking. When we put words into our character’s mouths, and because we make up what they’re saying, sometimes it comes across as forced and it sounds false. Listen to how real people talk and communicate. Maybe you hear someone who talks quickly, slows down at the end of a sentence, or even throws in some swear words now and then. Makes notes about what you hear and figure out if you have anything you could use for your own character’s dialogue.
Read your dialogue out loud. You should be reading your whole manuscript out loud but if that’s too time consuming or it’s a super long story, just pick out dialogue and ‘act’ it out. How does it sound? Be brutal and honest with yourself. Does it sound like real people talking? One thing I see a lot in beginning authors’ stories is too formal sounding speech. He is a very nice man. I am going to New York. We will be back in town next week. Please do not wait up for us. Some characters might talk like that but most will use contractions. He’s a very nice man. I’m going to New York. We’ll be back in town next week, Please don’t wait up for us. See how it sounds more life like now?
Read a screenplay. A screenplay is dialogue heavy. It’s written by someone who makes their living writing excellent dialogue so learn from a master.
Put these tips into practice and I know you’ll see an improvement in your dialogue writing skills.