Wow, it's been a long time since I posted. I guess because not much is going on. Well, to be more accurate, not much has been going on that I think you'd all be interested in. Big difference.
I've been doing some small things, preparing for a visit with students at a local University, judging YA entries in a contest, and thinking about writing my next book. As I've been looking at entries from that contest, though, I noticed something coming up quite a lot. And here it is:
Really, really dull dialogue.
I can't say I'm not guilty of this, too. I used to consider dialogue to be the EASY part of writing. But while reading other people's work, I realized there are a lot of dangers in assuming that you can just gloss over your dialogue. Especially when you read stuff like this:
"How was school today, dear?"
"Learn anything new?"
This is so boring and cliche and it kills. And yet this is a conversation that happens in probably every household. But that's the problem. There's nothing memorable about it.
In pretty much every entry I saw, there was a bit of cliche in the dialogue. For example, if I read one sentence, I could close my eyes and picture EXACTLY the next line, the other character's reaction.
But you WANT it to sound natural, don't you? They tell you to just write the thing that sounds most natural.
Still, I don't think it's a good idea. Because much like reading a book when you know what is going to happen sucks a lot of enjoyment out of it, reading dialogue when you know a character's response to it isn't very fun, either.
This is what I do: if a piece of dialogue, a response to my dialogue, comes too easily to me, I figure it's likely a cliche. The next response, the idea that comes to mind 2 seconds after the most natural response, is the one that I try to use. So the answer to "How was school today?" is not "Fine," it's "I didn't go to school. I robbed a bank, instead."
Sometimes it might not fit, but sometimes it might reveal something about the character saying it that even YOU didn't know. It's the age-old question. How to keep dialogue both natural and interesting?