Writing Better Dialogue
Better dialogue can elevate any piece. And it can even help to salvage a bad or otherwise forgettable piece of writing. Consider, for example, the works of Aaron Sorkin or Robert Altman. While these are examples from television and film, they should give an idea.
Sorkin is known for excellent dialogue, from such films as The Social Network and TV shows like The West Wing. However, Altman’s fame comes more for overlapping dialogue, from films like Nashvile, M*A*S*H, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
Consider your characters’ educational levels. A college graduate will, in general, use longer and more complex and subtle words versus a high school dropout. This does not necessarily mean one is smarter than the other, I might add. Hence consider who says prior to instead of before, or automobile rather than car. Because that will help the reader to define who is speaking if you are more or less consistent with who uses the ten dollar words, and who does not.
Affectations, Accents, and Pet Names
While I don’t want to get into accents again, there are some things to be said about regional dialects and regionalisms. A sandwich on a long roll is called a grinder in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but it’s a hoagie in Philadelphia, a po’boy in New Orleans, and a sub in New York. So if your characters are from Queens, you’d better have them call it a sub unless they’re messing around or are copying someone from out of town.
Pet name usage can be extremely helpful in writing. When you write a couple, you may find you are writing a ton of dialogue between them. And it can get boring to constantly write he said, she said, so you can usually drop that after the first trade of words. However, you may need to pick that up again after a while if you think the reader will get lost. And of course they can really get lost if your couple is of the same-sex variety. However, if one person calls the other one snookums, and the other doesn’t use pet names or just says darling, then the reader gets a clue when you use those terms. Just be consistent and your readers will thank you.
Listen to people talk whenever you can, and try to read your dialogue aloud. If you can get a friend to help you, even better. Because if your sentence is a tongue twister for you, then it is for your character (and, by extension, your readers as well).
Unless you meant to do that.