The debate on how to write dialog well is often an unnecessary one. Our opinion of what makes good dialog depends on how we and the people around us speak. My stories tend to have a large amount of conversations. I could say that I write what I hear when people talk. But, that’s not true. I must condense their words into a much shorter form without the meandering and repetition that exists in normal speech. Also, my dialog is not as polite as usual conversations because it is often the first clue of the existing conflict.
I attempt to imbue characters with their own particular eccentricities when they speak. The cocky young man does not sound the same as the timid one; nor does the intelligent high school girl use the same speech pattern as the flirtatious one. A reader might comment that one person sounds normal and another does not. Perhaps this is more of a reflection of the reader’s personality, than the realism of the dialog. People often cluster in groups that speak the same way. Fictional characters should not.
When I write dialog, I start with a format that looks much like a play script. The words in the conversation follow the characters’ names. Afterwards, I will add the dialog tags and, if necessary, the character’s expressions and movements. Too much description of these during a conversation breaks into the flow of words, and so does using a lot of deep point of view to express interior thoughts.
The words characters speak may not reflect exactly what they are thinking. For example, parts of my stories concern romance, but the dialogue itself is not romantic. The couple will begin to speak to each in an unguarded manner, sometimes bragging, sometimes critical, but still paying attention to what the other person says. Listening to details of the other person’s life shows more care or concern than any pledge of enduring love. Persuasive sweet talking or syrupy language is what a con man uses, and characters seem manipulative if they do that.
This snippet of dialog introduces how one couple meet each other.
“There is no ticket for your car, Ms. Montelongo.” The young mechanic grinned at me.
“Where’s Uncle Marco?” my friend asked. “He called her and said it was ready.”
“Picking up a water pump.” He paused and smiled even wider. “Montelongo…. that is not a common name. Are you related to Stefani?” he asked.
“Unfortunately,” I replied. “So, why is my car not ready?”
“The water pump is for your car. It went out during the test drive to make sure your gas feed problem was fixed. Sorry!” he apologized. “So, your sister is a cheerleader. Are you going to the game tonight?”
Now, I had to deal with a young mechanic with a crush on my sister, who didn’t seem to care whether or not I had a car to drive.
Note, that I summarized the conversation in the last sentence showing internal thought. Obviously this pair has a long way to go before they get together. However, readers will not always pick up subtleties in conversation. There is no guarantee that they will talk the same way as you or your characters do.