Not a lot of people know this, but dialogue is one of the most difficult aspects of writing, especially for beginning writers. The reason being is that you need to write engaging dialogue that keeps the readers entertained. Boring and dull dialogue filled with an incomprehensible amount of pointlessly large words for no apparent reason, or inversely, really short sequences of dialogue that contain only the bare minimum amount of words needed to get a point across, will never fail to make readers grow bored. There have been many times where I was reading an awesome story filled with incredible descriptions that were so outstanding I could literally picture the world the writer was describing in my mind, only to end up stopping because their dialogue sucked. It wasn't engaging, and I often found my mind straying because I was growing so bored.
To help you write engaging and witty dialogue, I've listed a number of tips for you down here that I hope will help.
- Listen to how people talk in real life. How many times have you read a fictional story where two or more people were talking and the beginning of every single piece of dialogue started with: "Well, Bob..." One of the biggest mistakes writers make, especially fan fiction writers, is they use certain words, such as "well" as a starter for their dialogue. How many times have you listened to a conversation and someone started a sentence with the word well? Not very many, I'd wager. So, make sure to listen, and I mean really listen, to other people when they're talking, and use the way they speak as a basis for your characters when they're talking to each other.
- Don't overload your readers with a character given info dump. Just like you shouldn't give away every single bit of information about your story or plot in one massive go during an author narrative, you also shouldn't do so during dialogue. Not only will that make your characters speech sound unnatural, but it'll also make them sound long-winded. No one likes listening to--or reading in this case--someone who merely states a bunch of facts that sounds more like they're trying to cram as much plot as possible into your brain. Let the dialogue flow naturally, trust your readers to read between the lines and remember information from previous chapters. And for the love of all things fiction don't make your character sound like some kind of plot device!
- Action and dialogue do mix. One of the most important things about dialogue, and something that I think a lot of people tend to forget, is that your characters are human...unless they're aliens or some other supernatural being, but that's besides the point. They are still sentient beings, and as such they should read like sentient beings. Have you ever spoken with someone and they just sat there, not moving at all as they talked? I have, like, once, but I'm pretty sure that guy was a robot. Most people tend to be animated when they speak with others, so make sure your characters are animated as well. Have them make gesticulations with their arms when they speak, or give them some kind of facial expression while they're talking. Just don't have them stand there, doing nothing. That's boring, and we don't want to read about boring people.
- Dialogue tags are so overrated. A lot of people in the fiction community, especially newer writers, tend to enjoy coming up with dialogue tags other then "he said/she said" and that's all well and good, but it shouldn't be your main focus. Just as having he said in your story too many times can be distracting, so, too, can using words like answered, replied, opined, murmured, mumbled, and, well, you get the picture. I'm not saying you shouldn't use more than just he said/she said, but you should try not to overdo it. My suggestion? Whenever and where ever possible, don't use tags at all. When there are only two people speaking, you really don't need to worry about putting dialogue tags, because unless your reader is mentally deficient, unlikely since they're smart enough to read your story, they should be able to keep track of who is saying what on their own.
- Break up the dialogue with character monologue. Contrary to popular belief, there are some people out there who actually think while they're talking. I know, shocking, but it's true. Let us know what your characters thoughts are while they're discussing whatever with so-and-so. If your characters are talking about how character #2 had such a hard life, let us know how your character feels about it. If they're talking about cooking, tell us your characters favorite dish. This not only allows us readers some breathing room from all the talking, it also gives us some insight into your character.
- Your readers should get lost in your prose, not your piss poor punctuation. Correct puncuation in dialogue is confusing. Due to how dialogue can flow in many different ways, the rules of punctuation are often subject to change. If you write something out one way in a non-dialogue sentence, it could very well be written differently in a dialogue sentence simply due to the way your characters speak. There are several good ways to figure out proper punctuation in dialogue: join a writing group and have them check your dialogue scenes, join a writing workshop that discusses writing dialogue, or read professionally published stories that have tons of dialogue scenes you can look at.
So, there you have it. My six tips on writing dialogue. They're basic tips, and only cover the tip (no pun intended) of the iceberg, but they should help you get started.
If you have any specific dialogue related questions, please feel free to comment on this post.