I wrote murder mysteries for theatre companies for many years. I came up with a plot and characters and the actors would improvise the dialogue. Good fun for all, and I got a cheque. Score! Then I was commissioned to write a mystery play and panic struck. I would have to write the dialogue! I made my way through it and now, many years later, I find writing dialogue for my characters the least of my problems. Along the way I have learned a few things to keep in mind:
- Vocabulary. Every character has his/her own way of speaking. A university professor will express a thought very differently than a teenager. A forensic investigator's vocabulary will be peppered with medical terms that an amateur detective would never use.
- Colloquialisms. Know your location to give your dialogue the ring of authenticity. But beware; too many colloquialisms will alienate readers from other parts of the world.
- Rhythm. Every character has their own rhythm of speaking. Some are staccato, some are sustained notes, some use long pauses for emphasis. Find each character's rhythm. It's there if you listen.
- Humor. Never underestimate the power of humor. Characters who are capable of making a small joke or a clever pun are more multi-dimensional.
Creating realistic dialogue is easier for some writers than for others, but it might be one your most valuable tools to fleshing out characters. I try to remember that there is often a large difference between what my characters say and what they do. Some just lie. Some are incapable of lying. Dialogue is what makes characters come alive for both the author and the reader.
Have fun discovering your characters' voices. If you listen, they will come!