I had someone ask me via email how I write dialog. It might be different that what y’all do. Thought I might add my two cents. The main point though, is write what feels natural for you, then read it out loud ALOT to see if it sounds right.
My background is as an actor first, a writer second. I have degrees in both English and Theatre, but it’s my theatre background that informs my writing, I believe, mainly because I got a better education about literature analysis from the theatre department. (aka:what is your story ABOUT.) So you’re going to get a different answer from me than perhaps the average writer.
I often approach my characters as I would approach an acting or directing job, because I am both. I’m also the production designer, set builder and costumer.
The most important thing you need to know is who your characters are and what they want. What is your overall story about, the underlying bedrock on which the whole thing is built? A lot of my fanfic is about “Learning to Love After Giving Up On It.”
So, you may be writing a cracky story about one of your characters being turned into a cat, but what you’re really writing about your protagonist learning how to be authentic and vulnerable with their loved ones. Anywho.
My “rough draft” is playing through scenes in my head with my characters, watching how they move and react to one another. Then I write it down, then I read it aloud.
Does it sound natural? Does it sound in character? Are the words appropriate to the time (nothing like “okay,” a word created in late 19th century America used in a medievalish setting, or “electric,” or “focus” in civilizations that do not have those kinds of inventions yet. Once I had to go look up when the microscope was invented.)
I often approach my characters as I would an acting job, putting on their skins, learning their voices. If it’s fanfic, I watch a lot of source material until I get a sense of personalities and how they speak, and then it’s just a matter of making sure I capture that “sound” in my fics. For instance, I think when I write Bilbo, I can hear Martin Freeman’s voice. I’m afraid Bella’s (fem!Bilbo) is a mixture of my voice and Martin’s. I tried to pick an actress, and frankly, my whole fem!Bilbo started with a dream where Thorin proposed to me in a WWI foxhole, and it’s kinda hard to shake.
If it’s original writing, I cast my characters with actors I know and follow their speech patterns. And I make up a backstory about where they’re from, educational level, etc.
(Occasionally, a character just comes out, unplanned and fully formed, a bit player who suddenly steals a scene. I just am thankful and hang on the for the ride.)
I know this is getting long, because I don’t want to just say, “I write what sounds right.” The thing is, to get great dialogue, you have to know who is talking. Really know them, who they are, what their goals are, what are their weaknesses and strengths. You have to know what they want out of the conversation and the situation.
So, sit down and think about who they are and what they want and all the things you know about them. Imagine where they are, what the light is like, what season it is, and why they are there. And then, once you’re prepared, let all that fade into the background and visualize them in the scene. Think of the emotions they are having while they talk to one another. Don’t worry about words yet.
For instance, I’ll use a scene from “Pearl of the Evening, the Rewrite.” Bella’s in a little flower garden with a long wooden bench, sitting in the sun, letting her hair dry while she does a bit of mending, just so happy to be outside in surroundings she’s familiar with, clean and well fed and safe and doing things that are normal for her. But still, when she closes her eyes for too long, Azog, Thorin falling, and the orc she killed appear behind her eyes.
She’s in the process of trying to recapture her zen when Thorin appears, creaky and injured, and Bella invites him to join her. Even though he’s sought her out, he’s not hopeful of how good a companion he might be, but he comes to sit. He’s nervous and in pain and wants to sit with her, but also knows that they have had a rough start. His goal is to test this new closeness between them, and to see if she is interested in true friendship, with a hope for courting later. Her goal was to have a pleasant, quiet morning, but she’s pleased, confused and a bit giddy about attention from him.
So, in my head, when I started, I had the picture of Bella sitting in the sun, and Thorin, gruff from shyness (and a bit of an arguement with Fili over his health earlier) asks if he may sit with her. I could see them shyly talking, I could see Thorin use his pipe as something to fiddle with, a small ritual to relax him. I could see them sneaking glances at one another, and once Bella very firmly tells him she wants his company, he relaxes and begins to mildly flirt.
About that point, I started writing, watching that scene unfold in my head, and just writing down what they say.
There are rises and falls in conversation, pauses, things said with a look or a gesture, changes in body language. I use all of that to inform my dialogue and show the reader what is happening. Hope that helps!
If this *doesn’t* help, I know there are writing resources out there. I, personally, am always intimidated by them, because I end up feeling like I’m not doing it “right.” So, I go with my gut and what has worked for me, and ultimately, what’s right for you, for any creative person, is to go with what feels right for you.
Best of luck!
*nods in agreement* I basically do this myself — I have to be able to “hear” who’s talking, and figure out whether or not the exact diction is in such a way that it would make sense.
I’ll admit that it can be hard for me to have OCs because of this sometimes. Unless I can comfortably cast an OC in my head, they’re amorphous. Poor Nidi in the fic was never based on any actor. I just sort of a generic version of “kid” in my head, made sure to remember that he’s from slum-like conditions, and added Nori’s Cockney accent, since Nori’s supposed to be a thief, and it would make sense for the kid to acquire Nori’s accent by exposure to him and other Ereborian refugees who were from the lower classes.