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For God's sake, don't write realistic dialogue

What's that you say oh negative Nelly? I said, don't write realistic dialogue, meaning have you ever listened to yourself talk? You "umm" and "uh" and "you know" and spout cliche after cliche. Write interesting and believable and memorable dialogue, otherwise the reader will tune you out faster than Michael Moore changes radio stations when Rush is on.
A good way to assure you'll never be published is to have lousy dialogue in your fiction. Believe me, I'm an expert at writing lousy dialogue. It's hard to write believable, memorable conversations though many successful authors manage to muddle through, ala Tom Clancy and his 700 page epics, 680 of which are filled with narrative. And then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Elmore Leonard and Robert Parker who live and die by their dialogue quite well, thank you. Still, most new author's dialogue sucks.
Recently I attended a writers conference where Davis Bunn, a bestselling author, talked of his early struggles and eventual success with dialogue writing. When an editor bluntly told Bunn he wrote the worst dialogue ever written, Bunn decided to do something about it and proceeded to go to fast food restaurants and record other's conversations. Later at home he would transcribe the dialogue verbatim to train himself in the art of writing realistic dialogue.
Now I'll tell you why that didn't work for me.
With recorder in hand, I sat in a booth at McDonald's next to a couple of teen age girls rapt in their story, which resulted in the following conversation:

Girl 1: "It was like, you know, forever before Riggs, like, told the cops about Mandy the wannabe Paris."
Girl 2: "I know. Like, yeah."
Girl 1: "Yeah, I know. I'm saying. It's like with your father, you know, so gross. She's such a biotch."
Girl 2: "Whatever."
Girl 1: "I know, I'm saying. She acts like, what? I'm such a wannabee? And Riggs wife, like fifty or something, she says okay, and tells the cops Mandy was lying, like forever."
Girl 2: "Wannabee. Like I'm not a slut but like, okay, why the A in English then? Whatever."

I know, fascinating repartee, but here is how a novice author would write it:

Girl 1: "Chantelle, can you believe that Mr. Riggs, our fifth period English teacher talked to the police about his involvement with Mandy?"
Girl 2:"I know. I can't believe it either, Britney."
Girl 1:"Yes. It's like dating your father. Mandy is fifteen and Mr. Riggs is thirty-five. He is in so much trouble. Mandy is so crazy."
Girl 2:"Yes, Britney. I agree."
Girl 1:"Yes. And Mr. Riggs wife told the police that Mr. Riggs only worked with Mandy after school to help her. She thinks Mandy is lying."
Girl 2:"She might be, but she got an "A" in the class and we both know she didn't deserve it."

Okay-awful. no one talks like that, but you wouldn't believe how many novice writers have their characters speak exactly that way. So what you should do is write believable characters speaking believable dialogue that not only entertains the reader but also advances the story. Avoid stiff conversations and the starts and stops of normal speaking.

Let's rewrite the dialogue correctly:

"Can you believe Riggs waited a month before talking to the cops?" Britney said to Chantelle who was busy sucking the last of her Coke through her straw.
"Yeah," Chantelle said. She pointed the straw at Britney, probably to make a point. "He's guilty. I can tell these things. I have a gift."
 "Uh huh. Mandy's such a bitch. Maybe she's lying, but God, it's like doing it with your father."
Britney frowned.Chantelle could be a moron sometimes. "His wife knows about it but tries to act like it's nothing. She says Mandy's lying. Like, I'm sure."
Maybe she is. A wannabee. Always me, me, me. She wants attention so she says Riggs did it. Maybe it's true. She got an "A" remember?"
"Yeah," Britney said. "But she's a "D" student."

So there you go. Lesson learned. Don't write realistic dialogue. Write interesting dialogue.
And don't write it better than me.

Keep not writing.


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Please visit my new website:
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I'll also be moving this blog there as soon as I can figure out how visitors can comment on it.
Also, my story The Adventure of the Nine Hole League was published in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #13