It’s likely that at some time most of us have skipped paragraphs of narrative and only read the dialogue. That’s because dialogue can move a story along more easily than loads of description. You can learn a lot about characters from their speech.
Some suggestions that might help:
*Be true to the times: If you’re writing a book set in the past, research the language and the topics of the day. Inaccuracies can pull a reader out of the story.
*If your setting is contemporary, listen to people around you. Take notes if you have to (much easier nowadays with touchphones with inbuilt voice to text applications). Take note of the way people of different ages speak. What used to be groovy, hot, radical or mad, is now bad. Or maybe there’s another word.
*Remember to take into account the character’s upbringing and line of work.
*Dialogue gives us a sense of time and place by the words and phrases used.
*We can gain insight into the nationality of a character by using a few techniques from their native tongue. Perhaps if an Italian man is frustrated and searching for a particular item he might revert to not using contractions (because English is his second language) and using the order of words as he would say them in his native tongue. Instead of, “I’m searching for a large green box. It was unfortunately delivered here” he might say, “I am searching for a large box green. Was delivered here by misfortune.”
*A man who speaks in short, clipped sentences probably leads a busy life and needs to get on with it.
*A Regency hero who comes out with, “Cowabunga, dude!” is seriously out of his timeline – or perhaps a time traveller?
*A contemporary heroine who says things like, “Psychedelic!” or “Groovy baby” is either a child of “Flower Power” parents who grew up on a commune, or addicted to “The Brady Bunch” (or maybe “Dharma and Greg”?).
*Listening to “real dialogue” is very useful, but to make speech flow in your manuscript, it must also serve some purpose. Does it establish tone or mood? Does it help to reveal something about the character or the plot? Does it add to the conflict?
We often use pleasantries in everyday speech that would make your novel quite boring: “Hi, how are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“How are your parents?”
“They’re fine, too. How are yours?”
“Mum is fine but Dad has the flu.”
You can bypass this sort of thing by stating, *They exchanged pleasantries* or something similar. Get to the crux of the matter! Never pad out dialogue.
*While correct grammar is essential to good writing, people usually don’t speak in complete sentences. They speak in incomplete sentences, at times using only phrases. People interrupt each other. People tend to use *umm* and *aahh* a lot, but perhaps avoid doing this all the time because, again, it slows the pace.
If you pay attention to these little details, it can only make your manuscript stronger.