For a few days, I eavesdropped on and typed up these conversations at a local coffee shop, and honestly, they were better than anything I could think up.
“We have our farmhouse in Ohio. Was built in 1898. They’ll hear their name called. Slamming doors. Up the stairs. But very much alive. I can psych myself out.”
“The sun broke through. Hit the back of my neck. A big old ray. She died like ten years ago. I knew it was her. By the time I got over the bridge. Blue skies.”
I mean. You can’t beat that for some good dialogue!
This next conversation had a bit of enlivening disagreement between these two young men. A good thing in dialogue.
“Eating with my parents. I don’t want to. Nobody else does this. People are going to be watching the game.”
“Are your parents into the game?”
“They might be but I don’t want to watch with my parents.”
“Kind of cool to have dinner with them.”
“Don’t point out the positives.”
Elmore Leonard is the master of using dialogue to move a story forward or into a sudden pitch toward confrontation such as the following in Be Cool.
“You wear your shades at night,” Chili said, “so I’ll think you’re cool, but I can’t tell if you’re looking at me.”
Raji put his glasses down on his nose, down and up. “See? I’m looking the fuck right at you, man. You have something to say to me fuckin say it so we be done here.”
A few more things to think about with dialogue.
Set up two characters with conflicting goals. Such as one wants Waffle House. The other a Vegan restaurant. Then have them talk about it.
Keep dialogue tags unobtrusive. Just stick with “he said” and “she said.” It makes it easier for the reader.
Read all your dialogue aloud, with a friend if possible. It will quickly become evident which lines don’t ring true.
Make sure characters are really talking to each other and not just saying something for the reader’s benefit or that you’re not forcing them to reveal a bit of plot through dialogue.
Use silence as well as speech to convey meaning.
Or if you want to break all these rules, you can do your own thing like Cormac McCarthy and use no speech marks or apostrophes.
Here’s some dialogue from No Country For Old Men.
Could have been checkin the quality. Getting ready to trade.
They didnt trade. They shot each other.
There might not of even been no money.
But you dont believe it.
Bell thought about it. No, he said. Probably I dont.
Lastly, lots of good advice on dialogue in 9 Rules for Writing Dialogue
2 thoughts on “Dialogue”
Especially crazy about the dinner-with-parents conversation. “Don’t point out the positives.” Love it!
He did not want to eat dinner with his parents!