If you believe my critique partners, my dialogue writing skills have improved by leaps and bounds over the years. Sometimes I wonder if they’re simply being kind, but considering how poor my dialogue skills were back when I began writing over six years ago, I guess it wouldn’t have taken all that much for me to become noticeably better.
Perhaps it has something to do with being an introvert, more accustomed to listening than talking, but dialogue has never come naturally to me. Heck, six years ago, I didn’t write dialogue, I wrote telling summaries of dialogue. As if I was afraid of using quotation marks. It wasn’t until I compared my chapters with those in published books that I realized the problem. No wonder my chapters had seemed so short. :(
Fast forward to the present and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with the whole dialogue thing, although I still have plenty left to learn. If anything, my dialogue now goes on for too long. Experts tell us it’s what’s left unsaid that delivers the most punch, but leaving stuff unsaid leaves me with a queasy feeling in my stomach. (Maybe because I used to be a teacher) Having characters talking at cross purposes or evading each others questions or misunderstanding what the other is saying are techniques I still struggle with.
Lately, I’ve been paying attention to television dramas to see how their writers write dialogue. One of my favorite shows for this is “Suits.” Even though there’s plenty of conflict and tension during an episode—almost all of it revealed through dialogue—the dialogue exchanges are surprisingly short. In fact, they’re much too short to adequately cover everything the characters would really need to know. And that’s the point I’m beginning to understand. Dialogue isn’t there to communicate information between the characters, it’s there to relay information to the reader in a manner that maximizes its entertainment value.
Dialogue isn’t real-life conversation, it’s code for real-life conversation.
So what shows do you watch for the dialogue?