First-time novelists tend to commit two basic mistakes when writing dialogue (don’t worry, you’re not alone!):
1) All the characters sound the same.
Dialogue is a great tool for character development because it gives your readers a direct line into your characters’ heads. If they all sound the same, however, it can be confusing. When crafting a conversation, think about how the people in your own life talk. Some of them may have pet phrases, or a particular gesture they like to use when making a point. Having your characters do the same will differentiate them from the pack.
Tip: Once I finish the first draft of a novel, I go back and check the dialogue to make sure what my characters are saying is consistent with their personality. My characters tend to evolve as I write, so I often end up rewriting some of their earlier lines because they just don’t “fit” anymore. When you find yourself thinking, “That doesn’t sound like something Sally would say,” you know you’re on the right track.
2) The characters use a flurry of overly descriptive replacements for “said.”
When I began writing my first novel, I thought I was supposed to use as many words as I could to convey the concept of “said,” when in fact all I needed to use was “said” or nothing at all. When you use words such as “declared,” “announced,” “inquired,” “teased,” or “suggested” instead of just using “said,” you’re telling the reader instead of showing the reader through the actual words and actions of the character. (If you’re not sure about the difference between show and tell, see my blog post on it.) You always want readers to draw their own conclusions.
These mistakes are very common for first-time authors, so don’t feel bad if you recognize them in your own work. I used to make them too – trust me!
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.