Ban ‘real life’ dialogue – My first act as leader
Time to talk writing. In particular, tips for writing dialogue. One of my first acts as leader will be to ban ‘real life’ dialogue.
It’s something I cover in ‘Talking out loud‘ – a guide to writing sparkling dialogue – there’s an extract below.
What is ‘real life’ dialogue? I will use the phrase a lot. So get used to it.
It’s my mission to correct any idea you might have that dialogue on the page should reflect the conversations you have or hear every day.
When I first started to write, I was sure of one thing.: my characters would speak like the people around me. They’d um, err and repeat themselves. They’d talk nonsense and occasionally get things wrong.
‘Hi,’ Andy said.
‘Hang on, I’m erm, just finishing off this email, I . . . yep, that’s about it. Right.’ Kieran looked up from his keyboard. ‘What can I do you for, kind sir?’
‘OK, so listen. Say no if you don’t want to, but you know, I was just thinking, and God knows, I don’t do that often enough, but, would you, err, like to look after the new girl?’
‘Oh, erm, right, yeah, well, urm, sure, yeah, but, erm. Well, I’m not sure I’ll have enough time, like because this report is kinda urgent, but you know . . .’
Soon enough I learned that if the written world sounded exactly like a real life conversation, I’d got it wrong.
Writing dialogue isn’t about reproducing real life, it’s about creating an impression of it – and let’s be honest, making it better.
Just like when you write a book, you cut scenes that don’t progress the plot, the same should apply to conversations between your characters. Work out what matters and what moves the story on. Show conflict (or collusion) and boil down your dialogue.
Real-life dialogue quickly becomes unreadable.
Journalists have it in their power to make their interviewees look dumb by printing what they say word-for-word. And while they might be tempted where they find their subject boring and unpleasant – or where they turn up three hours late – these journalists know it won’t make for sparkling copy. Or repeat business.
As writers, we want our characters to carry the story; they need to come over as real. But real people are weird. They don’t always talk about important things. They pass comment on the weather or tell you what they binge watched last night on Netflix. And unless you’re writing a particularly niche story, this probably isn’t what your readers want.
Read more in ‘Talking out loud‘