Dialogue seems awfully easy in English class, yet many writers get it wrong. You see, dialogue in novels isn’t supposed to be realistic.
“Huh?” you say.
If you wrote dialogue with all the little extras – the pauses, the unecessary words (um, like…), every variation from accent or region – it would be very tedious. In everyday speech, the brain processes out these things. When a writer tries to include all of them in the name of “realism,” they only annoy the reader. One has to be very selective in where such items are included, a specific purpose for each.
It’s also easy to drift too far into unrealistic speech. Characters (rarely anyway) launch into paragraphs long commentary. People don’t talk this way and this is usually a sign of author intrusion. That is, the author wants to teach the reader something , lecture them or impart some wonderful piece of knowledge to them. These “info dumps” are just telling instead of showing. Find a more organic way to include the information in your story. Very often you’ll find that the delete button is in order. Make sure it sounds like your character is talking and not you.
Many writers abhor short sentences, believing if it’s short that it must be grammatically incorrect. This is not true. Shortened dialogue can signify tempo, or change of it, of the scene. This is very popular in television scripts. Do people really talk like this? Rarely, but in writing it imparts necessary information to the reader (or viewer).
How should people talk in your books? There’s a great line in the film National Treasure that gives us insight. Nicholas Cage’s character says something profound to his female friend. She replies that people really don’t talk like that, to which he says, “No, but they think like that.” People’s thoughts are usually clearer, more reasoned and more detailed than what comes out of their mouths. So dialogue, out of necessity, must project a bit more than normal speech, but not too much more.
Who said writing was easy?