5 Reasons Your Dialogue Isn’t Authentic

I’ve been known to turn down an audition once I’ve seen the script.

It’s not the story, usually I only have the barest sense of what the story is about anyway because I usually just get  a side — selected pages I’ll read for the audition only. What kills it for me is the dialogue. Sometimes, it’s just soooo bad that I can’t bring myself to put any life into it. Writing authentic dialogue is hard, but it’s key to your story.

Here’s some dialogue issues that’ll make me run from a script. They’re all applicable to novels and other kinds of creative writing, too. 

  1. It’s klunky. The characters don’t sound like real human beings. The easiest way to fix this is to read your dialogue aloud. Could you hear yourself saying those words in that order in normal, everyday conversation? If you can’t, rephrase it how you’d say it, and then use that instead.
  2. Names. Everyone addresses (or greets) everyone else by their names. You get home in the evening, see your spouse. Do you say a) “Hi [spouse name]” or b)”Hi” … ? B, right? You know each other. In real life, we use names only with those we’re on less familiar terms with, and even then usually only on first meeting or in the initial greeting of subsequent meetings. So your characters should do the same.
  3. It’s cheesy. See #1 — if you’ve never said it in real life, chances are 99 percent of other people haven’t either. So cut it or rewrite it to sound like an authentic human being reacting authentically to their circumstances.
  4. It leaves nothing out. “This will be the best vacation ever and it couldn’t come at a better time because with the hours you work and having twins this year and my mother moving into the basement while she recovers from heart surgery we’ve not had any time to ourselves and our marriage has just suffered, so so much.” Less is almost always more. Trust the audience to get it.
  5. It really leaves nothing out:

    “How are you?”
    “I’m fine. You?”
    “Not bad.”
    “Good to hear.”
    “Ready to go move the body?”

    Can you see all the parts of that that maybe could be cut, that don’t belong? Yes — we should strive for authentic, speakable dialogue. But, that doesn’t mean we mimic actual human speech or full conversations. We can leave out the stuff that doesn’t move the narrative, like all the “hi” and “hey” and even “bye” and “see ya.”

What do you think? Any good dialogue tips you’d like to share? Hit me up on Twitter. Also, some more advice on writing dialogue.