Saturday, August 8, 2015

5 Steps to Writing 100% All Natural Dialogue - A Guest Post by Miranda Kulig

Hi everyone! Because I'm off in Kansas for Lyme treatment, the awesome Miranda Kulig from Dreams and Dandelions has stepped in for this week's blog post. In case you've never stumbled across her blog, she's a Christian writer who has been penning stories since she was six years old. Not only does she love stories, books, and Starbucks, but she can write an epic blog post. Here, see for yourself: 

When I first began seriously writing stories--and by seriously, I mean actually sitting down and finishing a story I had started--I thought I was really great at writing characters. I mean, when my friends and family would read the finished product, they told me I was a great writer and that they loved my work. So naturally, that meant I was great at writing and didn't need to work on anything!

Right?

Wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

As it turns out, my character dialogue sucked. Horribly. Just the other day I found a story that I had written three years ago (one that I was especially proud of for its dialogue. I thought all my characters had different voices and sounded great.) but I was so wrong. The dialogue was all very, very flat. My thirteen-year-old main character had the same voice as her grandmother, which was definitely a problem!

Thankfully, I've grown quite a bit in writing since then. I've learned a thing or two about writing some great character dialogue, as well as how not to write dialogue.

1. Avoid small talk. I can't stress this enough. Yes, you want the dialogue between your characters to sound natural and realistic, but that does not mean you need to include everything you hear in a normal conversation, like small talk and chit-chat. This type of dialogue is nothing more than page-filling sentences that slow down the story. Instead, stick with the necessary dialogue that moves the story forward and has real purpose.
2. Keep it natural. I absolutely hate it when I read a story and the dialogue is robotic.
"Hey, Katie. Do you want to go to the park?" I said.
"Yes, Dave, I would love to go to the park," she said.
"Okay," I said. "I will pick you up at 2 o'clock."
"Okay. See you then," she said.
I'm cringing. Robotic dialogue is painful to read, and it makes your characters sound totally monotone. When you go to write dialogue, really stop and think about what your characters are saying. I don't know about you, but usually when I'm speaking I shorten my words to "gonna" or "kay." Sometimes I pause before I speak, or I say "umm" when I lose my train of thought. When I tell someone what time it is, I hardly add the "o'clock" on the end and usually just say "1" or "3:40" or "quarter to 4." Think about how you speak and listen to the way the people around you speak, and then incorporate that into your dialogue.
3. Be careful with punctuation marks. Punctuation marks are essential for dialogue, so they are not to be taken lightly. When punctuating your dialogue, try to avoid overdoing it. For example, don't fill a sentence with exclamation marks just because your character is shouting. Too many exclamation points is often considered annoying and overdone, since the anger or hurt you are trying to portray could be seen through better word choices, instead. Keep in mind that you also only need to use one punctuation mark at a time. When they see "??" or "!!!" or even the questionable "?!" readers tend to immediately label the writing as amateur.
4. Said is dead! Dialogue tags are just as important as dialogue itself. I hate when I stumble upon a good-sounding story online but every piece of dialogue ends with "he said" or "she said." Said is not the answer to everything, you guys! There are soooo many words out there to describe how someone is talking. In fact, there's even a lovely little place called thesaurus.com that's just filled with words you can use. Just make sure you don't use "whispered" or "yelled" or whatever you choose over and over. Change up the way your character sounds. Add some variety!
5. Write it right. Do you have any idea how long it took me to learn how to correctly punctuate dialogue? A long time. A long, long time. My creative writing teacher in high school tried to teach me like forty times before I finally understood. I'm not going to explain it all because that's a lot of work and there is lot to to teach about punctuating dialogue. But luckily, the internet exists and there are many, many articles that will teach you the right way to punctuate your dialogue! So if you're struggling, simply turn to Google.

Dialogue can be a tricky thing to master, and you may find yourself struggling with it for a while. That's okay! (Heck, I've been practicing writing dialogue for years and I'm nowhere close to being a master.) Dialogue, like all parts of writing, is something that gets better with time. Just remember to keep it simple and natural, and don't stress about it too much. Just relax, open a document or notebook, and let your characters speak.

Let's hear a round of applause for Miranda! If you enjoyed this post, don't forget to check out her blog Dreams and Dandelions, which covers topics from writing, publishing, and everything in between. Also, if you're not following her on Twitter and Pinterest, then you're doing your social media wrong. Just stating a fact. Anyway, many thanks to Miranda for her awesome guest post. And, as always, thank you to my readers for visiting here week after week. 

Have some tips of your own about writing natural dialogue? Feel free to comment below!

Related articles: 

How To Write An Awesome Jacket Blurb For Your Novel
What To Do When Your Story Bogs Down
How to Know When to Stop Editing Your Novel

8 comments:

  1. Hey Miranda! Awesome post on dialogue. It really can be a tricky thing, and I found all of your points helpful. I do love using thesaurus.com as well as the dictionary, that site is a great tool all writers should use!
    A thought on this punctuation: "?!" I do agree that using this would make readers think that the writing is amateur, and I even am tempted to use it a lot! But that's where the creativity comes in. Have you read The Martian? It's a bestseller, and yet I saw a "!?" in the book. How strange is that?
    Anyhow, great post! Good luck on your writing.

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    2. Hi Susannah! I have also been tempted to use "?!" but then I find other ways to express the emotion my character is feeling. And I haven't read The Martian, but that's really interesting! Thanks so much for commenting! :)

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    3. Hi !

      Great story and very good tips ...

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  2. These are great tips on writing more natural dialogue. I like the fact that you emphasized proper use of punctuation in dialogue. It's so much more important than many of us realize. And adding little nuances with word choice in the dialogue is sometimes very characterizing.

    I would be careful with suggestion #4 though. This is quite a controversial topic. Many writers have told me that it's better to use "said" over attributing dialogue because it is a word that can be skipped over and you still know who is speaking, the dialogue should be strong enough by itself to not need any attributing descriptors. That's one of the reasons I liked suggestion #3. Unfortunately because people feel the need to punch up their dialogue they add attributions way too often.

    Personally, I think it's healthy to have an even balance of both (which is what I think was meant here, but didn't come off to clearly). I agree that sometimes it's nice to say "he projected" or "she laughed" or whatever as long as you don't over use it.

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    1. Seconded on number #4. 'Said' is invisible to the reader, in the sense that it does the job it's supposed to do without drawing attention to itself, and that's exactly what you want, so the focus is on WHAT's being said and not HOW it's being said. Trying to get too creative with dialogue tags is when you end up with unintentional 'Swifties' (named after Tom Swift, an author who loved to create extravagant dialogue tags.) It's now become a party game among writers, to create the 'best' Swifties - i.e.

      '"I'm grabbing the lion's share of the loot!" he roared.'
      '"I'm a little rusty on that subject," she squeaked.'

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  3. Thank you so much Hannah. Your re-post(Miranda Kulig) really help me. I'm indonesian, sorry for my bad english. And i did wince when i heard someone said "I don't like to read" too. :)

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    1. Hi Wanda! No worries about your English. It's great. I know for a fact that I'd flop trying to write in a different language, so kudos to you. =) I'm glad you enjoyed Miranda's post! She's very talented. Happy reading! May your life be filled with people who never utter the phrase "I don't like to read." =D

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