I participate in a few writing forums and end up reading a lot of stories that are works in progress. It amazes me how many authors have good plot, characters and story line, but their dialogue is unrealistic. Bad dialogue is like shooting the story in the proverbial foot, especially because it’s not even the main element of the tale but is mostly used as an extra for information and character development.
Typical speech is choppy and fragmented. Sometimes we speak with proper grammar but not usually. The most common habit I see when authors write dialogue, is line after line of complete and perfect grammar, as if everyone attended Oxford for a graduate English degree.
Here’s an example:
“I’ve decided on the purple dress,” my sister said, turning before the bathroom mirror to see herself from odd angles. “It goes better with the shoes.”
“It does look nice,” I said, nodding my approval.
When a more common chat between sisters would probably be;
“Going purple,” my sister said in her new dress, turning before the bathroom mirror to see herself from odd angles. “Better with the shoes.”
“Mm-hmm,” I said, nodding my approval.
“The flywheel has worn out its teeth,” my mechanic said with a cigarette anchored to his lower lip. “That’s probably going to cost a thousand dollars to fix. At its age, maybe you want to consider replacing the engine or perhaps the car?”
When in reality the dialogue might be;
“Flywheel’s shot,” my mechanic said with a cigarette anchored to his lower lip. “Looking at a thousand bucks. That or replace the engine, maybe the car. Your choice.”
Fragmented and choppy dialogue not only makes characters seem more real, but it gives the author great flexibility on choosing just the right words for each character.
Take note when the dialogue is in proper English and ask yourself if it sounds realistic. If not, just use less words.