Dialogue seems to be one of the biggest problem areas for newer writers – not just making it seem realistic and using it to bring characters to life rather than having to tell the reader everything about them, but also even technically. Punctuation of dialogue presents one of the biggest challenges for many less experienced scribblers!
But it’s not punctuation this post is about. Another common ‘fault’ I was reminded of in a manuscript I was recently reading was that of characters always naming the person they are speaking to in dialogue:
‘Jenny, why do you always try to pick fault with everything I do?’
‘It’s not that I try to pick fault, Anne. I’m trying to give you constructive criticism!’
‘Well then, Jenny, maybe it’s the way you put things, because it sounds like fault-finding to me!’
‘I’m really sorry if it came across that way, Anne. I don’t mean to.’
‘It’s easy to say sorry after the event, Jenny. I’m really upset now…’
And so forth. This might seem exaggerated, but although it’s an invented example I really have come across exchanges like this. People obviously don’t really talk like that, and once it’s been pointed out I think most writers would realise what’s wrong. I’ve always felt it stems from the fact that we tend to mentally label/remind ourselves who is speaking in such an exchange, and it seems kind of natural to transfer those labels to the page!
Dialogue in fiction often isn’t completely like real life. One example I always use is how people in fiction (and on film) rarely say ‘Goodbye’ or its equivalent at the end of a phone call! But the trick is, obviously, to make it seem like real-life speech even when it’s often a more concise, ‘shorthand’ version.