The more I work with characters on the page, the more their unique voices come through. One of the best writing exercises I’ve tried is to interview my characters about their lives. All the questions and answers come from me, but it also frees me to answer from their perspective. Sometimes those answers are surprising!
Dialogue also allows me to explore parts of the story, or events without wading through paragraphs of telling. It’s still important to avoid, “As you know, Bob…” or other lazy writing, but a balance of description, action, and dialogue can make a good scene great. Characters feel authentic and alive when their voice comes through instead of mine. Not every character needs that level of realism, but its good to have them where it counts.
The variety of conversations characters can have is worth exploring, too. Small talk can include details that might never show up otherwise. Playful banter can hint at simmering emotions. Angry tirades can reveal hidden agendas. Even a few well placed questions during a conversation can show a character’s depth (or lack thereof). The Devil is in the details.
It took me a while to move from good dialogue to great conversations. I have an ear for how people talk, but without description and dialogue tags, my words still fell flat. A talking head in a white room doesn’t help my readers at all (Even if they could get away with it in the Matrix).
I had to learn to ground my dialogue in the scenes I wrote. Purposeful movement through a well described setting while characters talk makes a scene feel much more real. When Ashley and her husband talk over breakfast, the details of their kitchen may not be relevant to the story, but its vital to the reader to feel like they are there with them.
The most impassioned speech a character can give won’t feel tethered to the scene without weaving who is talking, where they are, and what they are doing. A guy and his father arguing might be a good scene. Compared to Luke hanging on with one hand while Vader tells him the truth, its no contest. The reader only has what is written on the page to feel connected to my story, make sure they have all they need.