robertmblevins - september 17, 2013
If you have trouble with dialogue, there are a couple of ways to deal with it.
First, when doing dialogue, envision how REAL people talk while writing it. If it sounds stilted, or corny, or not in the manner that real folks converse, it probably isn't.
One of the biggest mistakes writers make is in how they 'attribute' dialogue. The word SAID is the word you should use for attribution 99% of the time, not modifiers like 'said sadly' or other descriptors. This is called 'author intrusion' and it's distracting.
Rather than having a character say something dumb, it's better to just have him THINK it. Doesn't sound so bad that way. Here's an example of some dialogue I think is not bad. It's from a work on a first manned landing on Mars:
“We’ve lost the radar signal on the module,” said McKendrick. “Homing beacon is still there. Pretty weak signal, though.”
“It may have gone into a canyon,” said Johnson. “Some of them are fairly deep in this area.”
At a scant two thousand meters above the ground, she increased power again to slow their descent. She saw what resembled the Grand Canyon below them, however, this place contained scores of Grand Canyons from horizon to horizon, like some colossal stone maze. They all looked dark and deep.
She spotted a few large plateaus rising above the canyons and considered putting the MEV on top of one. She decided against it. They would never reach the cargo module sitting on top of a plateau. Instead, she made another course change, flying horizontally, trying to bring the MEV closer to the module’s last known position.
As they thundered over the canyons searching for a landing site, the descent engines continued to burn fuel at a furious rate.
“Watch out. I see broken terrain on radar,” said McKendrick.
“Roger that.” Outside her window, Johnson saw sharp-edged ridges and deep slashes across the ground that ended in shadows. “Damn, it’s dark down there,” she said.
It was nearly sunset on Mars. The canyons shone in dark burgundy and crimson. The light was fading fast.
She finally glimpsed something encouraging. Between two of the high plateaus was a narrow valley covered in nothing more dangerous than small rocks. It was an ancient riverbed, winding among the canyons. “I think I see a good landing site. Here we go.” She leveled off and dropped them smoothly into the valley. Sheer cliffs and steep hills seemed to swallow the MEV.
McKendrick checked their fuel supply. “Sixty seconds. Open valves on tank four?”
Johnson understood the question. They had already transferred fuel from three of the six tanks on the upper ascent stage. In one minute, they would have to transfer even more if they were not on the ground. “No.” She reached up to close another switch. “No transfer. Plenty of time. Landing lights on.” She risked another quick glance out the window. “We’re going for the riverbed,” she said. “It’s at least thirty meters across. No boulders. Terrain looks good.”
“Radar shows same,” said Walker. “Come on Anna, get it down.”
Johnson watched the altimeter carefully and piloted the MEV into a gentle vertical descent, its engines still roaring and gulping fuel. As they dropped into the spot she had selected, thick rust-colored dust flew in all directions. Sensors in the landing legs brushed the ground. “Contact light,” said Johnson calmly. She flipped another switch above her head. “Engine stop.”
The MEV settled to the ground with a soft bump, coming to rest at a slight angle. The engine shut down with a drawn-out whine that slowly faded into silence. The sun was completely gone now, and the darkness outside was total. In the swirling shadows created by their landing lights and the Martian dust, they could see only tantalizing hints of the towering walls of stone surrounding the spacecraft.
(It's obvious this part of the book was inspired by the Apollo 11 landing)
The reason this dialogue works is because of the short, clipped nature of it. No long conversations, no unnecessary wordiness, because the astronauts are obviously engaged in a high-risk maneuver and time is critical. It just sounds real, and that's what you want to go for in dialogue. Some writers will envision their story as a movie, and try to put that movie into words. This technique helps a lot when creating dialogue. Message has been edited - september 17, 2013