Writing believable dialogue in fiction is a long way from dialogue in 'real life' which is peppered with a chaos of ums and ahs, you knows, basicallys and many more superfluous words and fillers. If used in a novel or short story these fillers will only serve to slow the flow and frustrate the reader. Likewise in reality we eat, watch television, cook meals, bathe, spend and waste time on the Internet, visit family, friends and sick relatives, shop and clean. But if included in our fiction (unless absolutely crucial to the storyline) it would drive the reader as far away from your novels as possible.

In fiction every piece of dialogue in a story is a means to a narrative end. In real life, conversations can be one sided, boring, animated or something used to avoid silence. Developing an ear for dialogue is good but writing it you must keep in mind the tone of the novel and the character speaking.

And on the subject of character dialogue many readers have told me that they dislike excessive swearing in novels, a view I personally share. In particular the visually impaired readers who listen to books on audio tell me this is very off putting. I also dislike excessive swearing in films and feel that sometimes a good film or television programme is ruined by it and it is completely unnecessary in fact a lazy way to convey an emotion. Yes, there is swearing in my crime novels but not excessive by any means and only in keeping with the character and the situation.

To return to dialogue and life, Alfred Hitchcock said that a good story was 'life, with the dull parts taken out' a viewpoint I am inclined to agree with and dialogue should follow the same pattern: it's human conversation without the ums and ahs.

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Comment by Gaile Hughes on March 31, 2010 at 5:11pm
Too true I.J.. I have recently spent an evening with some 'working girls', (their occupation is part of my book), and their dialogue isn't for the faint hearted, if I tried to portray them as, shall we say 'ladylike', then you wouldn't get a sense of their background or the background you are trying to paint. Now for the hard part, getting their dialogue down on paper and making it believable......
Comment by I. J. Parker on March 30, 2010 at 4:29am
:) I don't have to worry about that stuff. My characters speak in translation.
Comment by John McFetridge on March 30, 2010 at 1:33am
Also, the way the dialogue and the prose fit together is very important and, I think, often overlooked. Most writers who are praised for their terrific dialogue also have a strong narrator's voice that isn't too different from the majority of the dialogue so the change from one to other doesn't pull the reader out of the story.
Comment by I. J. Parker on March 30, 2010 at 1:00am
Excellent points about dialogue -- as well as on the possibility of hearing oneself on audio at some point in the future, and not liking what one hears. Of course, the latter may be due to a bad reader.
Dialogue reveals personality and class (bad word in the U.S.). We may not swear ourselves, or dislike hearing swearwords, but if we have a character who belongs to the age group, background, social class, educational level or whatever where one finds most cursing and slang, then one must let the character do his thing. It's usually a male, but not always. Some females engage in this also. Dialogue must be true to life.

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