Tips for Writing Dialogue
by Bob Martin
Writing dialogue can be difficult, because it’s very easy to fall into the trap of letting all of your characters sound like you. To avoid this, you have to keep your characters completely distinct in your mind. One technique that works for me is to come up with specific models for the way my characters speak. For example, I used Antonio Banderas as the model for one character. When I needed a line of dialogue for that character, I just had to ask myself, “What would Antonio Banderas say in this situation?” Movie actors are good people to use as models, because most of us are familiar with their ways of speaking. Imagining how someone else would play a scene can get you out of your own head, which is an essential part of writing believable dialogue.
Another important part of dialogue to think about is taglines. To put it bluntly, if you have to write “he said brusquely,” then your dialogue is not strong enough. You shouldn’t have to write brusquely, because if the character is supposed to be speaking brusquely, the dialogue itself should be brusque.
If you find yourself struggling with dialogue, here’s another approach you can take: I sometimes ask friends of mine who have the same ages and cultural backgrounds as my characters to act out a scene. I record it, and then I transcribe the recording and edit the transcription and get dialogue that way. It ends up sounding very real, because it grows out of exactly the kind of interaction I want to write.
There are a lot of ways to come up with dialogue. Just remember that your characters shouldn’t sound like you, and if you find yourself adding descriptors to dialogue tags, that may be a sign that the dialogue itself needs some work.
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