Dialogue can be difficult and writers can be unhappy with their results, they’ve been inside characters’ heads, they know what they want to say and they say it, then they play with those words of dialogue because something just isn’t sitting right – No matter what they do, something is wrong, something is missing and they just can’t seem to clinch it.
It might not be the dialogue at all that’s causing the issue. It might be something that should be surrounding it and is often forgotten by writers more concerned with the message contained in the spoken word. Communication has many layers, so if you’re having trouble with writing dialogue, have you considered including body language?
People don’t just yammer at each other. They move, they stretch, they raise their eyebrows, smile, laugh or frown, fold their arms, slouch, flap their hands around, or drink, smoke, eat. Dialogue often happens on the move, walking down a street, crossing a shopping mall, or in a car or bus.
Adding body language and movement can fill the scene and give the reader more than dialogue alone. You don’t want your readers feeling they might as well be listening through the wall because they are unable to see anything. You want them in the room, at the table, or out on the street or in the taxi. You want your readers to be there. So, what are they going to see if they were present? Who does what while all this talk is going on?
Naturally enough, you don’t want all your characters flapping and twitching and moving and hopping about, but a touch of it here or there can make a huge difference to a scene. It can bring the scene to life. Not only can it reveal some of what is around the characters talking, it can also reveal attitudes and demeanor.
A person slouching is bored. Someone fiddling with the salt shaker on a canteen table is fretful about something – possibly the conversation. A person slouching AND fiddling is bored and doesn’t like to be there. Kids bob up and down. They are full of energy and squeaks. A crowd is noisy. A waiter will take your order. There’s traffic on the road. There are distractions everywhere. Conversations might flow smoothly, but there also might be hiccups along the way as people pay attention to what is going on around them.
I’m not suggesting you pad it out or slow it down, nor fill out your dialogue with distractions. I’m simply suggesting that if you’re a writer who doesn’t like writing dialogue (and there are many who don’t), try it again with a sprinkling of body language and movement popped in. You might be surprised at how alive and real your dialogue becomes when in a natural setting.
Just food for thought.