Dialogue is probably my favorite part of everything I write. It’s how I avoid exposition (which I hate) (No, seriously, hate) By getting my characters to reveal their settings, thoughts, and circumstances, the pace of my writing stays where I want it; At a brisk clip.
1. Get your characters to say what you don’t want to write
Because, honestly, they have a job to do. The author should not have to do everything.
We will use my new release Brother’s Keeper as an example mine since it’s easier to ask for my own permission. It’s a sequel. In the first novel, I introduced the world, including an alien race called the Brax. There could have been a lot of repeating of information.
Here, I use dialogue to convey simple facts a reader should have about the Brax going in. They are a very traditional and matriarchal society.
They turned right into a side corridor where Sandoval was waiting with his updates. The olive skinned man had a few years on Bryson, and plenty of experience in surveillance.
He should be running his own house by now, but he had no interest in command. “Laine reported in last night. She’s secured the evacuation site.”
“Excellent. Did the Braxian settlers get transport?”
They began to walk three wide down the long corridor. “Um, about that, Sir.” The taller of them looked uncomfortable. “They wouldn’t go.”
“Maroe, the matriarch, has decided this is safer. She won’t take her settlers anywhere.”
This conversation is basically a Sitrep for the reader. You get a glimpse of the Brax, and a line on where one of the characters are at the moment.
2. Dialogue is critical to story pacing.
In my case, the urge is always to speed things up, but there are moments (like love scenes) where you need to slow it down, let the momentum build up slowly.
Short, clipped sentences convey actions, speed. When I get somewhere that requires a softer touch, I’m still trying to run when I should be walking. I just can’t slow down, and it seems to work for me. Here’s an example of short, fast-paced dialogue that sets the pace.
“I’m not a reporter. I’m no longer a princess, as you loved to call me. So, what am I? A rebel? A traitor?”
A fleeting anguish twisted her gentle expression into a fearsome frown. “That’s not enough, Bry. I have to have purpose. My work was what I had, until….”
“Until me,” he finished.
At this moment, the relationship is very unbalanced. She’s all in and he’s running scared. This is communicated most effectively in dialogue. She’s sharing. He’s not.
3. Do they all sound like me?
This happens to all of us, so let’s not indulge in denial here. I find at least one passage in every edit that was written in a flurry and sounds completely bland.
Dialogue must be read aloud during an edit. Every character should sound distinct. If you read it back and the only distinguishing difference in the way each person speaks is how you hear it in your head, then read it again. If there’s nothing that visually sets them apart, a reader will not be able to follow easily.
4. How your MC sounds will reflect his reality to your reader.
Typically, I write military men quite a bit. How do we all think they sound? Short, brusque, and all business, right?
That’s not wrong. It’s pretty close to the truth actually.
Gender plays a huge role in how a character sounds to a reader. Men tend to be more sparse and concrete in how they express themselves, the last example illustrates this as well. Women tend to share their thoughts more fluently as Cari was doing. The young use slang. The elderly use outdated and out of use phrases. Young children have less vocabulary. Everything can be a factor when you are trying to write realistic dialogue for a character.
5. People pay attention to what the characters say.
We’ve all heard it. The odd reader that says, “I skip the fight scenes.” I’ve even heard them say they skip the love scenes.
They seldom skip conversation.
Dialogue breaks up prose to keep the reader interested in these people you’re spinning into a tale. It’s one of the most crucial tools in your toolbox for creating a break, moving it along, or just sharing boring information with the reader in a more interesting way.
Take your time with it, and your reader will, too.
Jolie Mason writes speculative fiction, mainly sci-fi romance. You can see her work at https://future-fairytales.com/
Her newest release, Brother’s Keeper, was released on June 20th.