Creating Credible Dialogue (Part 1)

By Nicholas Klacsanzky

Okay, so you’ve successfully used my advice from my previous posts, and created some picturesque scenes or decorations, and inhabited them with characters who give the impression of being alive on paper. However, unless you are writing a script for a silent movie, you will need to make your characters speak. As history—especially regarding the Holy Inquisition—shows, there exist lots of ways to make a person speak. And though many of these techniques are certainly effective (and totally inhumane), I am going to teach you a more civilized way to make your characters talk. What I mean here is dialogue.

how to create credible dialogue - part 1
Writing dialogues is perhaps among the most complicated literary tasks. I’ve often wondered why a person skilled in both writing and speaking (I humbly mean myself) creates such crude and awkward dialogues. Why do I have to edit almost any dialogue in my novels multiple times? I have no answer to this question. But what I know for sure is that there are several ways to make your dialogue more believable.

For a warm-up, I’m going to share one of my favorite tricks with you. Imagine a real person whose manner of speech you know well (your mom, brother, teacher, or what is better—your best friend) speaking out phrases you’ve composed. Imagine their intonations, facial expressions, gestures. Or, you can even ask your friend to learn some of your phrases, and then speak them as if they are parts of a real conversation. Does it seem natural to you? The trick is that it’s harder to imagine actions and reactions of an imaginary person (because you need to invent them from scratch) than to “replay” already complete behavioral patterns of your friends or relatives in your head. As a result, it’s easier for you to see whether words match with intonations, where the dialogue is forced out or crude, and so on—it’s not an imaginary character, but a real person who speaks. This technique is not universal, but it makes sense to me, so I hope you will find it useful too.

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