Dialogue is an essential part of fiction, the way an author shows a character through what s/he says. And it’s so easy to get it wrong. Here are some ways dialogue goes wrong and what to do about it.
Trivial. When character talk to each other, the reader doesn’t need to listen to the trivial, or unimportant, things we all say to each other. We ask about the weather, chat about the inconsequential details of our days, or just generally avoid talking about anything of substance. That type of dialogue clogs your storytelling and drags down the pace. Cut the trivial and only leave the meat of the discussion.
Boring. Even once you’ve cut the trivial junk, dialogue can still be boring. Deep philosophical discussions, complicated explanations, and dry, technical explanations all bore the reader. Instead, enliven the discussions with conflict, disagreements, or something that leaves the reader wondering what happens next. Think of each bit of dialogue as conflict brought to the surface of the story. Build a tiny narrative arc into each set of dialogue.
Unbelievable. After eliminating trivial and boring dialogue, you’ve still got to make sure it’s believable. Would the characters actually SAY that? When a character is too foolish, too opinionated, too extreme, then you have to wonder if it rings true to the reader. It’s a fine line to walk: you want the characters to be bold and bigger-than-life, but you must make those huge characters believable.
Too formal. Another thing that can go wrong is the wrong level of formality. While the principal of a school may talk formally, probably your characters voice will come through in a more informal way. Use contractions. Shorten sentences and use sentence fragments. Leave out the fancy words and let your characters loosen the ties and corsets.
Dialogue is crucial and you can easily get it right. Cut the trivial and boring, make sure the dialogue is believable, and let the characters relax. Don’t let a reader close a book after one chapter just because you blew the dialogue. Fix it now.