- Observe and listen to how people talk. If you are writing for young children, find a place where you can sit and listen. Libraries have special events for young children. Talk to the children’s librarian to see if you can sit in and observe. Talk to a friend who has children the same age as your characters. Perhaps you can wrangle an invitation to a party. Make sure you take lots of notes. Author Carolyn Mackler writes for teen. One of the things she attributes to her success is finding a coffee shop where teens hang out after school. She makes a point of getting a table before school lets out and waits with her journal ready to take notes on what they say and how they say it – what they wear and how they look.
- Make it real. People use slang. They use contractions. They don’t always talk in full sentences and even when they do, we don’t need to include all of it. Edit out the filler words and speech that doesn’t contribute to your plot in some way.
- Break up dialogue with action. Just as long paragraphs with lots of information dumped in about past happenings drags down a story, so does endless dialogue. Break it up with text that shows the reader physical things going on. The person pauses and looks over her glasses and says something else. The girl talks, flips her hair and continues talking.
- Don’t Overdo Dialogue tags. Try to stick to “he said/she said”. Getting too creative with your tags draws attention away from your dialogue and that is what needs to be the focus. In the revision process look for all the places where you can remove “He said/she said.” If only two people are talking you don’t need to use a tag on every exchange.
- Don’t go overboard with slang and profanity. They can be distracting and you run the risk of alienating your reader.
- Stay clear of dialect. Unless you are from a certain area, region or country, you shouldn’t try to write in that dialect. To write more than a few sentences requires the expertise of someone from the region who is familiar with all the terms, inflections and meanings. Consider your readers. The different meanings, phonetic spelling and dropped endings can slow the story, make it harder to read and become irritating. In fact you could lose the reader all together.
Hope this gives you some ideas to improve your dialogue. Let me know.