This is a rough one for many writers. I considered it my weakest ability for awhile, and this is when I was writing screenplays!
I have been known to be bold in my own statements, like not buying a protective case for my phone bold, and have tried to regulate my mouth over the years. Some may say I’ve failed, but you’ll have to ask them because they are no longer speaking to me.
Most people, and most characters as a reflection of life, are not so bold. They water down their speech or flower insults with kindness. Most just can’t bring themselves to say anything negative directly to anyone’s face. They just complain about people when they reach a safe distance. Expressing their love is even harder.
I try to remember this when writing dialogue. I keep it rough, and simple, because people rarely exchange elegant conversation. Long brilliant speeches only occur when rehearsed. Not everyone is a poet and few people, even if they know those hundred dollar words, ever use them in real dialogue.
I’ve deleted a lot of beautiful dialogue because when I read it I said, “nobody would ever say that. It sounds great, but it’s not believable.”
If you want believable dialogue then listen to real people. You’ll hear a lot of “uh”s and “like”s when they fill their pauses, and that may not look great on the page, but it is real.
Is it possible to have this kind of dialogue in a book and not bore the reader? I think so. Behind the simple delivery and raw vocabulary, there is emotion. When two old friends see each other after several years of silence, they become strangers with a past. One of them is jealous. One of them is still bitter about something. One is glad the other got fat. Even if they talk about the weather and shoes, much more is being expressed.
If you feel the audience doesn’t pick up on the subtleties, then tell us what they’re thinking or have them both talk about the other with their current friends. Just make sure there is a reason for these encounters. Pages of greetings and casual talk with characters that are really just background is noise. With every conversation we should learn something about a character and how they feel about others and their place in the world, especially the immediate situation. Even an “uhhhh” can speak volumes.
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