After all the interest in writing realistic dialogue, I thought I would open up about some of my method, even though, honestly, I am going to feel really silly about this.
First, though, a quick disclaimer. There are many different kinds of dialogue, and this discussion will really be geared toward snappy, realistic dialogue per se. Dialogue can also be expositional, lyrical, or staged, or take on a number of other qualities, depending on your story, your style, and your purpose. Each kind of dialogue needs to be approached mainly on its own terms.
Alright, well, my approach to writing dialogue (among other things) is undoubtedly influenced by my youthful turns with roleplaying games, my time as a voice actor, and my general tendency to externalize my imagination in order to understand it. That said, I think even without those things in your background, you might be able to adopt some of this for your own use.
If you're okay with being crazy.
See, here are two of my keys:
- Very often, I say my dialogue out loud while I'm writing it. I'm not reading it. I'm saying it. This helps give a fairly natural flow and syntax. Doing it at the same time, rather than saying and then writing, helps constrain most of the verbal pauses and other little glitches that might otherwise infiltrate my speech.
- I practice dialogue, by which I mean that I will sometimes (usually when I'm driving), just start talking out loud as if I'm two different people. This helps me get used to exchanges and personality. By hearing it out loud, it also helps me learn some of the pitfalls of what's annoying or cumbersome. This is not dialogue from a book and usually not characters from something I'm writing. The idea is not to rehearse for writing; it's just to make dialogue natural. For most of us, talking as ourselves is natural, but talking as two different people is not. When you're writing dialogue, you're talking as two or more people. That's something that must be learned to be comfortable.
- After I've written dialogue, or sometimes during the revision process, I read it out loud. This is not a narrative reading, but as if it were a script. It's a performance. I typically assume a different voice for each person I'm reading. It doesn't matter if you're any good at doing voices. What matters is that by doing that, you are adding a check: do the words really fit two different people, and is each one consistently the same?
Okay, that's probably enough for you to chew on. I know it's silly and embarrassing, but I think it's helpful!