Last weekend, I visited my sister-in-law and brother-in-law who have an idea for a screenplay. Or possibly a stage play. When they said writing dialogue was the hard part (compared to developing the plot), I said I thought writing dialogue was much easier. Then, of course, they asked me how I do it. I had to think for a minute, since for some reason I never think of myself as an expert on anything. But then I realized I really do have some tips and ideas about this topic.
1. Let characters talk about themselves. This exercise can help you get to know them. The better you know them, the easier it is to understand how they speak and what they want to say.
2. Imagine characters as people you know. Maybe you've already based your characters on certain friends and family members with colorful personalities. As you're writing, it can help to simply imagine what the real people you know would say in your invented situations.
3. Write tons more dialogue than you need. Allow characters to go off on tangents and say whatever they want to say. You can edit down later to make sure the dialogue moves the plot along and actually belongs in your story.
4. Read dialogue out loud. That way, you can hear whether it flows and sounds real. (Actually, I'd say reading anything you write out loud is a good idea.)
5. Eavesdrop! Listen to people around you having interesting conversations. If you want to get really sneaky, write down what they're saying. When you read it over, you'll see how the interesting parts of a real conversation are often buried among asides and interruptions. Those are the parts that make dialogue sound real, but they can also be distracting if you don't do a bit of editing when you write.
So those are my tips and techniques for writing dialogue. Do you have tips of your own? Please share in the comments - I'd love to hear your ideas!