I eavesdrop on conversations. Like the two girls sitting behind me right now.
“I know, I like totally backed into pole. That thing on the bottom that runs across the car was like so smashed up, and my boyfriend didn’t even warn me I was going to hit it. I mean, what good is he if he’s just sitting there and doesn’t even say a word?”
“Chah, I know, boyfriends aren’t what they used to be.”
“I just don’t know where this is all going with him, if he’s going to be so…inattentive.”
“I feel like I do all the work, you know, and he just sits there, not warning me of anything.”
The two guys sit across the aisle.
Quiet for five seconds or ten minutes, then, “Dude, check it out.” He motions with his shoulder out the window. A young blond pulls up in a yellow Camaro.
“Ten, sometimes fifteen per mile.”
“My cousin Johnny was working on his brakes once, and saw a blah blah blah blah….”
I drummed the conversation out.Writing preachers proclaim dialogue is not how people speak in real life but how we wish we could speak.
That’s cool, I guess. But I’ve got to tell you, more important than sounding like characters who have stepped off the set of an Errol Flynn movie is this—content is king. Writers bore readers all the time with gorgeous dialogue.
Here’s the key: Know your reader.
Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt doesn’t pull his buddy aside to talk about a growing feeling of loneliness that’s been haunting him since raising the Titanic and now he’s thinking of quitting because he’s found himself in a love triangle and can’t decide which girl to chose because they’re opposites and here’s how they’re different, and he’s getting away to a beach to think because he needs to clear his mind, and hey, buddy, want to split a cinnamon roll and get a London Fog half caff soy half sweet? Readers of action simply don’t care.
Equally off-putting would be Anne Shirley saying, ‘Wassup, Marilla?’ As a reader, I’m pleading with Anne to chatter for pages, and I’m loving EVERY WORD.
Simply put, when I pick up a romance—which I do often believe it or not—men don’t sound like men. I don’t want them to. Even as a male myself, I’m trying to escape the mindless facts that connect to nothing but are sometimes interesting, depending on how smart or good-looking he is. Instead, I’m reading dialogue that directly touches on his relationships….and I’m okay with that. I know the readers.
And when I pick up an action book, I’m looking for info dumps on red algae and how it’s destroying the world, and which scientist the hero is going to have to defend so she can save the world and they hook up for two pages and boom…romance done.
Keep in mind as you write dialogue that content is king, and to make your work sing, know your reader.
Hey, while you’re here, want to split a gluten free maple bacon cinnamon roll with black iced tea half sweet peach and vanilla?