Think about your favorite books. Now think about why you love it? Without fail, it’s because
- The story was good. It might be great, or just good enough, but it kept you involved. It wasn’t mundane, ordinary or like all the other books you’ve read
- You liked the characters. The author made sure you got to know them, and when you did, you liked them. You got into their heads, you heard their inner thoughts, you found out they were good and decent people even when bad stuff happened to them. Very few books survive with dislikable main characters.
- You learned from it. This doesn’t have to be factual knowledge. It might be life’s lessons, or how to think through an emotional problem, or how to handle a difficult person. Learning about survival is as important as book learning.
Doesn’t sound hard, does it? So how do you do it? There are lots of factors required for a book to be a best seller, but none more important than dialogue.
- How characters talk gives them a unique voice. You should know each character by how s/he’s presented in the book–his/her word choice, actions as they talk, mannerisms, accents.
- Dialogue moves the story forward while keeping you the reader intimately involved. Dialogue happens now. You don’t know what will happen next. That builds drama and excitement, makes you keep the book open as you turn the pages. Too often, in the narrative parts of a story, that intensity is missing. Readers are comfortable sitting back, relaxing outside of the real story, knowing it’s going to work out fine.
Here are some hints I’ve cherished in the years I’ve been writing. Read them over. Select those that you can own and remember them:
- Make dialogue authentic to your character. If you wouldn’t mention the beautiful roses, don’t have your character mention them, even if you’re desperate to flesh out the scene. Figure out a different way to do it.
- Don’t worry about your grammar, unless your character is a professor. How many people in real life make sure they don’t put a preposition at the end of a sentence?
- Watch those tags. ‘Said’ is fine. ‘Blustered’ and ‘lectured’ might not be. They might be affected. I often avoid tags altogether by having the character do something before he speaks, like ‘Zeke slurped his coffee. “I just said that.”‘
- Avoid dialogue that doesn’t advance the story and the meaningless give and take that is routine in everyday conversation. Yes, we want dialogue to be true to life, but don’t bore us. Leave out the stuff about ‘she said hello, then she asked how he was, then she mentioned how hot it was.’ Get to the point or your reader will be so bored, s/he’ll put the book down.
- Add to the reader’s knowledge with dialogue. Don’t repeat what we already know. You can do that with a quick, ‘She told him what happened at the park’.
- Use dialogue to show and develop relationships between people. Isn’t that what conversations do in real life? Why not in your book?
That’s it. I’m not going to make this more complicated than it really is. By the time all of the above becomes routine, you’re ready for publishing.