Writing Dialogue

I’d say my biggest pet-peeve, and what will turn me off to a book the quickest, is if the dialogue isn’t right. I never really gave dialogue much thought until my freshmen year in college. I was taking Fiction Writing, and it opened my eyes up to what was good writing and what was just… writing. I never understood the difference between show v. tell until then (well, at least I had a grasp of it).

And I never actually understood what made good dialogue until then, either. I still vividly remember my professor, a man passionate about creative writing, go off on a tangent about how dialogue in novels had to be like a conversation you’d have with your friend and yet not at the same time.

How he hated “uh”s. And now, I hate them, too. If I see multiple “uh/um” in the book (outside the bedroom or getting violently harmed) then I’ll close it and walk away. I know that seems extreme, but they drive me crazy. And if there’s “uh”s then that means there’s a lot of other things wrong with the dialogue, too.

I tell this to anyone I’m doing critiques for but I don’t think I’ve ever said it as clearly as what I found looking through the tumblr accounts I follow.

Fictionfiction.tumblr.com wrote this:

A lot of people assume dialogue is easy to write because ‘It’s just a conversation! I have those all the time.’

But real conversations are, for the most part, really boring:

  • Lots of verbal tics (uh, um, like, well, I mean)
  • Lack of conflict (How was your day? Great, yours? Pretty good!)
  • Cliches and repetitive phrasing

Writing dialogue that too closely mirrors real conversation will give you lots of repetition on the page. You don’t want that. Repetition is bad. It’s boring. It sucks. It’s totally lame.

All that said, here are a few essential reads re: writing dialogue that is great and awesome.

See what I mean? Clear, concise, and helpful all at once. If you click on the link above, fictionfiction gives some links of her own on help for writing dialogue.

I hate uh, um, like, well, and I mean. Some of them can be used appropriately (well, I mean, and like) but they must be used sparingly. The other two hold no purpose whatsoever in dialogue. I also hate repetition–inside of dialogue or outside of it. If that repetition of words and/or phrases is for an obvious literary purpose then I’m fine with them. I like it when it services a purpose.

But when it doesn’t other than the fact that if a real person, really talking, would keep repeating “um” or “well” or “I mean/I know/I don’t know” then I’ll be hitting my head against the table.

I don’t care if that sounds ridiculous to some. We’re all allowed our pet-peeves and bad dialogue is mine.