If you're reading this, then chances are you will be using dialogue at some point in your story. Good for you. Dialogue is important. It should be there to save you when description doesn't work. The following are some tips for awesome dialogue.
Tip One: Know your characters.
Before anything comes out of your character's mouth, you need to have an understanding of the character as a whole. This will influence how he or she talks and interacts with others.
Some good questions to answer are:
-Where is your character from?This can mean the difference between your character calling a carbonated beverage "soda" or "pop". Your character's origin can also influence how he or she says a word ("pahk" vs. "park" or "pin" vs. "pen"). Dialect is very important. If you can, try and research speech patterns of the area where your character is from.
-What is your character's social/ educational status?This is important to know because this is the basis for your character's vocabulary. Generally, characters of lower social and educational status have a limited vocabulary and are likely to use slang (curse words included) as emphasis or a "space filler" when speaking. Grammatically incorrect speech is acceptable. Conversely, characters of a higher social or educational status will tend to use grammatically correct speech patterns and have a broader vocabulary. Unless it's a specific speech trait, chances are that characters of higher social and educational standing won't default to a curse word if the proper word doesn't come to mind. Don't feel as if you have to eliminate them from the character's vocabulary though. Also, you don't have to whip out your thesaurus to make your character sound educated.
-What is your character's personality? It's important to know if your character is more likely to give a one-word response or will talk the other character's ear off when addressed. Does he or she talk a lot? Does he or she feel the need to always have the last word? Is your character sarcastic? Or does your character always speak the truth? These are just a few questions to answer.
-What is your character's age? Generally, people of different ages speak differently. Unless you want your adult character to speak like a child, make sure that you have the speech patterns correct.
Tip Two: Understand male and female speech.
Males and females don't speak the same way. Unfortunately. So, it's important to know some key differences between the way that the two talk. This does not hold true for every male and every female, but it's good to know if you've never written dialogue for a character of the opposite gender or if you want to make your writing more believable.
Females are generally more emotional in their dialogue. Expect to use exclamation points. Expect to emphasize words. Female characters ask more questions than their male counterparts. Female dialogue is personal. They also are more apt to use more personal pronouns in their speech. If personal pronouns aren't used, then specific names or nicknames are. The goal of many female characters is to appear cute and helpless(bleh). This is achieved by using childish dialogue.
Example: "Daddy! Can I please borrow your credit card? There's a new cashmere stripey dress at the store. It's four hundred dollars. I asked Mommy, but she said to ask you."
Females are also generally more descriptive as well. Details are important. Males are generally less emotional and more deliberate in their speech patterns. Words are not often emphasized. So, when you want your character to put emphasis on a word, make sure it's important. Males generally don't ask questions unless they want a specific answer or the question is rhetorical or sarcastic. Males use pronouns differently in their speech than females. Females mostly use them inclusively. A male character will use a pronoun exclusively.
Example of male pronoun use vs. female pronoun use:
Male- "I took some chick with me to the movies." The focus is on the speaker as an individual.
Female- "We went to the movies." The focus is on the speaker as part of a couple.
When a male uses inclusive pronouns with or in reference to another character ("we", "our", etc.), there is a closeness between them. The male may or may not be aware of this. Nicknames are also used sparingly. Details are also not as important in most cases. What color is his shirt? Chances are a male will call it "green" rather that "Kelly green with hints of a shade nearer to kiwi". Homosexual characters may adapt speech patterns of the opposite sex. This is not always done on a conscious level, but serves the purpose of making the individual appear more attractive to prospective partners.
Tip Three: Use the right emphasis.
The words that a character emphasizes are important. So, it's up to you to make sure that your character is emphasizing the right words to convey an idea to another character and, ultimately, the reader.
Look at the variations of the following sentence as an example.
"I really love you." There is no emphasis anywhere in this sentence. All of the words may be of equal importance or the speaker may not consider any of what was spoken to be important.
"I really love you." The speaker is important.
"I really love you." The degree of love is important.
"I really love you." Love is important.
"I really love you." The listener is important.
"I really love you." Everything is important. Different from the first example in that it is clear that the speaker wants the listener to know that every word has meaning.
Tip Four: Set up dialogue tags correctly.
This applies more to actual writing in a manuscript, so feel free to jump to the next tip if necessary. Dialogue tags are used to indicate who is speaking. They can vary according to the writer's style, but there are some things that you should be wary of when writing. Do not capitalize third person pronouns in a dialogue tag unless you are referring to a deity, some other penultimate being, or your character has the misfortune of having said pronoun as a name.
You can write the following and it is stylistically correct:
"Yeah, he left at two," he said.
"Yeah, he left at two." he said.
Tip Five: Don't be afraid of sentence fragments.
In real life, people don't always speak in complete sentences. Don't feel like your character has to, either.
Tip Six: Playing the name game.
Don't feel like you have to make your characters always refer to themselves or address each other by name when they speak. People don't often do this in real life. However, because this is not real life, there are times when an author will have his or her characters do this. They are:
(1) When a character is new. The character may introduce himself or herself or another character will do it;
(2) At the start or end of a chapter or after lengthy absences in the story. It's important to for the reader to remember a character's name;
(3) In instances of lengthy dialogue. This way the reader will be able to tell who is speaking or being addressed if names are not given in dialogue tags;
(4) When there is something special or significant about the character or his or her name. Clearly, there is a reason that everyone is mentioning Sir Mahogany Pants.
Nicknames are also important. They can say a lot about a character or another character's impression of him or her. They denote a level of familiarity and intimacy.
Nicknames may be used either positively or negatively. For example, consider the difference between a girl calling her boyfriend "baby" or "stupid". Also, nicknames may be used to soften a verbal blow or a command.
Nickname with a verbal blow: "Honey, do you have any idea how absolutely annoying you are?"
Nickname with a command: "Take out the trash at the next commercial, sweetie."
Tip Seven: Be careful of word choice.
This refers to writing in general. Diction can make or break your character's dialogue and your writing career. In real life, you may not be able to hear the difference between "there" and "their", but there is one; and, the attentive reader will notice your mistakes. If you have trouble with homophones (words that sound the same, but are spelled differently), keep a dictionary handy.
Some commonly confused words are:
-to, too, two
-definitely and defiantly
-they're, there, their
-effect and affect
-your, you're, yore
-its and it's
-then and than
- a lot (vs. the imaginary alot)
Tip Eight: Review grammar and mechanics.
This is another general tip.
Here are some handy hints to help you with your writing:
-Apostrophes do not indicate that a word is plural. They can be used to indicate that a noun is possessive or that a word is a contraction. For example, CD's does not refer to more than one CD. It means that the CD owns something. (The only exception is writing letter grades or discussing math functions.)
-Commas are your friend, but use them correctly. A good rule to use is "When in doubt, leave the comma out" (that is, until you can go find an English handbook or a good editor friend). Commas should not be used to combine complete sentences together.
Tip Nine: Make sure that you are familiar with a language before you use it in your writing.
This refers to smatterings of a foreign language that may come out of your character's mouth. At first glance, it may look cool or sound cool to have a character use a language outside of what you are familiar with. However, it's important to know that there is nothing kawaii desu about complete gibberish.
Tip Ten: Practice! Learn!
This is your most important tip. Practice writing dialogue whenever you can. Listen to how others speak. Listen to what you have written. Read your work aloud. Ask friends to listen to what you read and then comment back to you. Learn from this. Incorporate what you learn into your own work. Lather, rinse, repeat.