Improving Dialogue without Dialogue

Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone! I thought I’d kick off the momentous month by discussing some tips for one of the most important, and difficult parts of writing. Dialogue is what I’d describe as many writers’ kryptonite. For me, though, having been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder, and struggling with social situations by default, I find it especially hard to accurately replicate the natural flow of conversation. By all accounts, my own style of speaking feels unnatural when translated directly into a book, even when the character is themselves autistic.

It’s even harder writing dialogue for a larger cast of characters, though. For this reason, my casts of characters tend to be small. That way, I can focus on making the fewer relationships I have complex, nuanced, and multi-layered… as well as being able to get away with having as few 3-way conversations as possible.

But, dialogue is a necessary part of many stories. Since I know that many people struggle with it as much as I do, I thought I’d share some tricks I’ve learned to help make dialogue feel more natural.

My first advice would have to be that dialogue should rarely be the only thing happening onscreen. It might be my ASD always looking for distractions, but think; when was the last time you sat down and talked to someone, with nothing else going on? Picture yourself sitting, talking to someone in a deathly silent room. No music, no rain hammering against the windowpanes. It feels… odd, doesn’t it? Creepy even. Usually when talking, there will be other things happening too. Perhaps you’re out on a walk with a friend, talking about times gone by. Dialogue will feel more natural if you focus on the surroundings too, re-establishing their connection to their world. Acknowledge interruptions, or distractions. Perhaps a pair of lovers walking sees a pair of lovebirds fluttering overhead. A kind old man interrupts a heartfelt conversation to offer a warm kettle of tea to his ruffled granddaughter.

Another thing is that dialogue is not the only thing that defines a character. Sometimes it is the lack thereof that can make a scene really click. Picture this; your hero has made a mistake. A terrible mistake. They apologize profusely to their mentor figure, but for the first time, he will not answer. In some cases like this, silence can be worth a thousand words. People will rarely talk for a long period without stopping. And just as silence can create tension, it can bring a sense of comfort and homeliness too.

My next advice is that many elements of conversation can be carried outside of vocalisations, through things such as expressions and body language. This may seem obvious, but it is often a more effective method of storytelling to tell the reader that someone smiled, rather than having them say it themselves, as well as feeling far more natural. If in thought, their brows might crease. If nervous, they may fidget. In real life, I am often more prone to noticing a person’s movements than the subtleties of their words, and so it helps when these things are pointed out to me.

And, that’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed the post, and I hope it helped you when writing dialogue of your own!

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