The Tao of Dialogue
One of the most challenging skills a novelist needs to develop is writing great dialogue. For the purposes of fiction (or narrative nonfiction, including memoirs), the author has to do far more than depicting "real conversation," which (if you really listen) is most often halting, repetitive, and mundane enough to put anyone attempting to read it to sleep.
So let's agree that dialogue has to do far more, and far better, than simply sounding real. In general, writers do best to remember the following.
1. Keep it pithy. Assume you're writing the "Best of" whatever comes out of that character's mouth. So you want only the cleverest, the most conflict-rich, and the most character-revealing. And for heaven's sake, avoid the temptation to allow characters to speak in long monologues. Nobody likes a blowhard. Especially in print.
2. Keep it pertinent. All, or very nearly all, dialogue must move the plot forward, heighten the tension of the story question, or raise new questions. There's no room for "How are you, I am fine" drivel, not unless it's loaded with irony or subtext. (You can use narrative to reveal this, for example, characters engaging in trite conversation as bombs or bullets fly around them. Or try showing body language which contradicts the spoken word.)
3. Keep it peculiar. By that, I mean peculiar to the individual who says it. Ideally, each character in your story should be so richly realized (or at least hinted at) that his/her lines could not have been uttered by any other character. To check to see if you're succeeding, try stripping your scene of everything except dialogue, and then see if you can still tell who's talking in the conversation. Though this isn't always going to be possible (anyone can shout "No," for example), it's a very worthy goal.
For a howlingly-funny (and obscenity-laced, I warn you) example of pithy, pertinent, peculiar dialogue, check out the Twitter page of a guy who identifies himself as Justin, whose bio says: "I'm 28. I live with my 73-year-old dad. He is awesome. I just write down shit that he says." Justin proves he has a great ear for dialogue on his popular Shitmydadsays page.
Best grumpy old man material ever...
Today's question: Which authors do you particularly admire for writing great dialogue? Also, do you have any helpful dialogue tips to add?
P.S.- The adorable pups are from Loldogs. Check 'em out (if you have a taste for saccharine, anyhow.)