Realistic Dialogue

Got a Fix for “Stiff” Dialogue?

Dear Editor…

I’m having trouble making the dialogue in my mystery sound realistic. The criticism I keep getting is the dialogue sounds stiff. Can you help me?

Real Talker

Dear Real Talker…

I’ve got something for you to try out: repetition. Fictional dialogue can be so sculpted and logical that it feels “stiff.” A little apparent sloppiness in the form repetition can make your characters sound like real people more focused on chasing their point than organizing their thoughts for clarity. (Of course, you will be clear.) As a bonus, the repetition can help reveal what the character thinks most important. I hope the following example will illuminate this suggestion (though admittedly it’s perhaps a bit extreme; I don’t have the luxury of space to show a subtler repetition across the course of a conversation): “They could’ve just given me the money. Would it have killed them? They’re rich. Parting with the green wouldn’t send them to the poorhouse. Parting with the green would’ve avoided this whole stupid mess.” Character stomps away. “Stupid rich people.”

Happy writing!
The Editor