Hey, y’all, welcome back!
Today, we have the lovely M.L. Bilinski here to talk about writing dialogue, and I think she’s got some great advice! Check it out!
Heat bloomed across the back of Jacq’s neck. “You said they were the same.”
“It’s English. There’s, like, five different contextual meanings to everything.”
Think for a minute about your favorite TV shows or books or movies. Now think about the ones you didn’t like.
Typically, when it comes to movies based on books, I prefer the book to the movie. One of my exceptions is THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I really enjoyed all three Lord of the Rings movies. I liked them much, much better than the books and the biggest reason for that is that I didn’t like Tolkien’s pages and pages of dialogue. The Council at Rivendell? It was building scene in the movie, and it moved right along. In the book? I lost track of who was speaking and had to keep going back to find a dialogue tag. Then, of course, I lost track of the conversation as a whole.
On the other side of the coin, a book series that I really like for its dialogue is Leigh Bardugo’s SIX OF CROWS and CROOKED KINGDOM. There are some absolutely fabulous exchanges between Kaz and Jesper. Nina’s one-liners are great, too.
I know a number of writers who hate doing dialogue. I know it was one of the areas the kids at my local public library’s writers’ club struggled with and the best advice I had for them was also one of the simplest pieces of writing advice I have.
My first piece of this advice is this: if you can – and you’re comfortable with it, as I know not everyone likes lots of people or crowded places – sit somewhere, preferably in public, and just listen. Places like bus stations and airports are great for this. Listen to how people say things, whether they have an accent similar or different to your own, and also listen to the words they say. Dialect plays a big part in writing believable dialogue, too.
What I meant by dialect is this: I’m originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York, and we refer to Coke or Pepsi as soda. Out here in Buffalo, where I currently live, they call Coke or Pepsi pop. Where we grew up and/or where we live influences the words and phrases we use, and how we say them.
My second piece of advice for writing dialogue is to actually say it out loud. It’s a little different at first to basically act out two parts of a conversation, but it’ll let you know what sounds like a natural speech pattern and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t sound like something someone would actually say in a conversation, then it’s not going to sound right on the page coming from a character. When you’re looking at dialogue you’ve already written and you’re not sure if it works, go ahead and read it out loud. Note where you stumble, or where you pause because you want to read it differently than it’s written.
I spend 20-30 minutes in a car every morning on my way to work (and the same amount on the way home), and I’ll use that time to work on bits of conversation between my characters. If I’m alone in the lab, I’ll work on it there. The shower is also a great place to work on dialogue, and people generally can’t hear you over the sound of the water. There are some conversations I go over three or four times before I’m ready to put words on the page. Even then, I’ll say it out loud as I write it to make sure it feels natural.
And of course, as with a lot of writing, there’s no limit to how many times you can write it and rewrite it until you get it exactly how you want it to sound. Happy writing!
Molly Bilinski is a 2013 graduate of William Smith College and currently lives in Buffalo, NY. She puts her science powers to use by day and is a novelist by night (and weekend…and any other five minutes she can find). Her debut novel, a YA retelling of Robin Hood titled LADY OF SHERWOOD was released from Clean Teen Publishing in May 2017. When she’s not working or writing she’s scoping out coffee shops, going to Toronto FC games, and exploring Western New York.