Talking about Talking--Thoughts on Dialogue
Sometimes it's tough being fourth in line in this group. Have you seen Katy, Donna and Talia's posts on dialogue? They're great - all three of them. They've hit on much of what I wanted to cover: study conversations (in life and in art), keep dialogue tags to a minimum, let story context and/or formatting attribute dialogue.
So here are my miscellaneous, leftover thoughts on dialogue:
1) READ IT ALOUD - Nothing will improve your dialogue writing skills than reading your work aloud. Katy mentioned this in her post, but it's worth repeating. That sentence you just stumbled over? Cut it down. The rash of ellipses in your dialogue? Try them aloud. Are all the trailing thoughts or pauses necessary?
2) PACE IT - Dialogue generally gets things moving along. As readers, we love to hear characters talk. We also love white space on the page. Be aware of that if you're writing a quiet, introspective scene. You might need to weave in setting, narrative, and other details to get the right pacing. Along the same lines, sometimes you can just let dialogue fly. Quick back and forth between characters will turn a scene into a freight train. Point is, dialogue is a powerful weapon. Use it often, but use it wisely.
3) WORK ON SUBTEXT - My favorite kind of dialogue has loads of subtext. We often don't say what we mean when we talk. We say what we think others want to hear, or what is expected of us, or we slip another motive behind our words. If you know your characters and their goals, then this should be really fun.
Finally, have fun! Dialogue is hard work, but it's also most definitely play. Let yourself experiment and enjoy!