“Well, if you had gotten up when the alarm went off…” she said.
“Don’t start, Jean,” he shot back.
With a sigh, she turned to stare out the window. “Whatever, I’m just saying. If you hadn’t crashed the car, we wouldn’t be on this bus, and we wouldn’t be heading to the courthouse right now.”
“It wasn’t my fault. You saw that guy flying like a bat outta hell. What was I supposed to do?”
“I know,” she mumbled, sighing once more and thinking about their dwindling checking account. The court fees would be yet another strain on their money. “I know. I’m sorry, hun. I’m just tired is all.”
Eddie put his hand on Jean’s, and she turned to him. “It’s okay. Just shit luck though,” said Eddie.
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Let’s just get to the courthouse and get this over with. We can grab some lunch afterwards. All right?”
Jean nodded after a moment. “All right? Some place with sweet potato fries. I have a craving, for some reason.”
With a smile, Eddie replied, “Sounds good to me.”
If you’re anything like me, then you probably both love and hate writing dialogue. Writing dialogue requires you to get inside a character’s head and really listen to her voice. How would she structure that sentence? How would she say certain things? What words would he use? As you ask yourself these questions, you begin to wonder if you even know your character. Perhaps your character is not as interesting as you thought at first, and no one will ever believe your character. At this point, you’re ready to highlight the text of your entire story and hit delete because, honestly, it’s a shit story anyway, right?
You’ve just entered what I call the Dialogue Hell Dimension, a place where many good writers become disillusioned about their story’s apparent lack of authenticity or believability. I’ve learned that there are four steps for escaping this hell dimension: 1) go out and talk to people to hear how they speak, 2) drink plenty of coffee (or tea, if you’re a real health nut), 3) review your character, and 4) get back to writing that dialogue!
Writing dialogue teaches a writer about her characters. Everything you think you know about your characters may change as you begin to write the characters’ dialogue. Consider the act of writing dialogue your opportunity to get closer to your character. Use what you learn from the dialogue to review and revise your narrative for character consistencies and inconsistencies. Does the dialogue build upon any descriptive details you’ve already provided about the character? If not, should you add those descriptive details into the narrative? For instance, if your character is a bit anxious by nature, perhaps she stammers throughout some of her dialogue. Does the dialogue contradict any of the descriptive details you’ve already provided about the character? For example, is your character too much of a stiff or proper person to use the slang words you’ve included in his dialogue? These are the questions you’ll want to ask after you finish writing a piece of dialogue. How you answer these questions should illuminate whether or not your dialogue is authentic to your character.
Take the act of writing dialogue as a chance to cozy up to your characters, become friends with them, and learn more about them. Listen to your characters. Really listen to them. They want to be heard and understood just as much as you want readers to hear and understand you.