Laura Jane Cassidy was born in 1986 in Co. Kildare in Ireland and has taken time out from her Drama studies at Trinity College Dublin to complete her supernatural crime series for teens. The first novel in the series, Angel Kiss, will be published by Penguin’s Razorbill imprint in May 2011. She dislikes when people use the Internet to cheat at table quizzes, but likes when they use it to visit her popular blog, where she talks about book-related matters as well as playlists, fashion and lots of other stuff.
You can also follow Laura on twitter. (@LjCassidy) Laura gave these tips on writing dialogue exclusively to writing.ie
When it comes to my own writing, one of the things that people often remark positively on is my use of dialogue. I used to think that being a quiet person was a burden, but it seems that all those years of listening actually paid off! However, simply studying conversations isn’t always enough, so here are my tips for writing great dialogue.
♦ Read plays – Script reading is great for brushing up on dialogue skills. People’s everyday conversations are not always the most interesting or coherent, so plays are great for finding a balance between what is realistic and what is readable. Some playwrights I would recommend are David Mamet, Brian Friel and Conor McPhearson.
♦ Use contractions – Less ‘I am not going in there until I am ready.’ More ‘I’m not goin’ in there ’til I’m ready.’ This will make your dialogue less formal, and therefore more believable. Remember that authentic conversation really adds to a story. My own favourite masters of dialogue include Paul Howard for popular fiction and Sarah Webb for children’s fiction.
♦ Keep it relevant – I like to have my characters talk about things that are relevant to the plot, and mainly use dialogue to progress the story or to show more of a character’s personality. I prefer not to mention things in conversations that are not really relevant to the plot.
♦ Keep it simple- There’s no need for elaborate dialogue tags or fussy adverbs. You don’t have to say ‘he exclaimed’ or ‘she said enthusiastically.’ ‘She said’ will do just fine.
♦ Keep a balance- Remember to combine your dialogue with description and inner thoughts from your characters. This will help your story flow.
Here’s an example from my own book, Angel Kiss, where dialogue is combined with description and thought:
‘So, you’re Jacki?’ He asked as his eyes met mine, and he dropped the change into my palm. My insides jolted when I heard him say my name.
‘Eh…yeah. You must be Nick.’ There were a few moments of silence. I tried to think of something to say. Anything at all. But nothing came.
‘So how are you finding Avarna so far?’
‘Yeah it’s…it’s cool.’ Avarna was a lot of things, but cool certainly was not one of them. Why did I have to say cool? Any other word would have done. Any one at all.
♦ Say it out loud – If it sounds weird when read aloud then it probably needs some work.Remember that people rarely let others talk for more than a sentence or two without interrupting, so don’t let your characters prattle on for ages. There are exceptions of course, for example if one character is recounting an incident that the other characters know nothing about.
It’s good to record yourself (or a willing volunteer) reading your story, and then play it back and see if you can spot where the conversations can be improved.
♦ Don’t panic – The more you stress about a certain aspect of writing, the more impossible it becomes. Lots of writers approach dialogue with the view that it should be difficult, but once you practice it enough it becomes fun and easy to write. Good luck!