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Believable Dialogue

One of the things that can make or break your novel is believable dialogue. I’ve seen far too many books by new authors lately where they have tried to get around “show don’t tell” by having their characters describe a person in-depth or expound in great depth about a situation or location. The reader will often get involved for a sentence or two, but they will eventually skip those “telling dialogues” or close the book completely and write a scathing review about how the author doesn’t trust their reader.
There it is. The one statement no author wants to hear. “Trust their reader.”
It’s true though. You have to trust your reader will understand what you are giving them in your book. Not only do you have to trust them but you also need to do this with showing, not telling. I’m sure more than a few authors are grumbling at this point and will demand to know one very simple thing. Just how am I supposed to describe my characters if I can’t tell someone about them?
First of all, as an author, you should be concentrating on your main characters. Description should be added when necessary and should fit into the scene. Say your main character is walking along the street. It’s a blustery day, lots of wind, leaves rattling in the gutters, trees bending double, most people shivering in warm coats, but your character has on shorts and a T-shirt. Ah, perfect opportunity to describe both what he/she is wearing while also giving an overall glimpse of the scene, and you’ll be smart about it. This character is about to run into an old buddy and they’re going to tell each other what’s happening. You’re thinking you get to put out four or five paragraphs of description without your editor giving you the red pen.
With a wicked grin on your face, you set into motion a fabulously plotted method of fixing the problem of too much exposition and not enough dialogue, something was pointed out to you by a beta reader. Hours later, you sit back in satisfaction. You’ve added about thirty pages to your book. Sure, there’s a lot of dialogue but you did manage to insert a sentence or two between those long diatribes. Your characters are described. Their motivations have been discussed in such a way the reader can’t mistake what’s going on. You’ve even managed to get in a lot about their background so the reader understands why they’re at this point.
Hold on there, partner. We don’t need to know your characters’ details from birth to this moment. You lost your reader back on the first page where you started this in-depth look at his/her life.
Believable dialogue is important in any book. It’s difficult to achieve and takes a lot of research to get it right. Oh, and this research can’t happen on the internet. You, the author, will have to leave your writing cave and venture into the world. You will have to listen to how people talk and make copious notes. A mall, the grocery store, even a school board meeting will give you an idea of what people say to each other.
Once you’re done with this research you can then venture back to your story and make that dialogue believable, with longer narrative to add in description of each individual and the scene around them, in a way where the reader feels as if they are there, experiencing the same sensations.
Remember this bit of advice: description doesn’t belong in dialogue. A reader doesn’t want to know about your character from birth to this point. All they want to hear in dialogue is normal people speaking to each other. They may or may not discuss what’s happening. They may comment on clothing, if it’s very different from what others are wearing. What they aren’t going to do is make an analysis of the situation or go on and on about the impact to the human condition. They aren’t going to expound on what happened to them at two or three and how it impacts their life now. Save that type of background for when it’s important, a tense situation where the main character is confronted with a scenario they once experienced.
About the K.C. Sprayberry
Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.
She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.


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Other people’s Pulp: Arsène Lupin (2004)