How can you keep your dialogue on track? What creates memorable rather than laughable dialogue? Consider this list—
1. Give characters different voices—different word choices, rhythms, and styles.
2. Don’t explain everything. Dialogue isn’t normal conversation.
3. Skip the pointless words and near words, the ums and uhs.
4. Use words appropriate for your audience and genre and character. Is the story young adult, suspense, action, or romance? Would a character say the words you’ve put into his mouth?
5. Limit dialogue tags to the basics of said and asked. (For more on dialogue tags and exceptions to this suggestion, see The Use and Misuse of Dialogue Tags.)
6. Alternate dialogue with action, description, and exposition.
7. Put your characters in an identifiable place and time while they converse. Give them actions while they speak. Avoid talking-head syndrome.
8. Don’t forget other characters in the scene while two of your characters converse; those others must be doing something.
9. Don’t permit characters to speak at length without interruption by another character or an action scene or a bit of description. This is dialogue, not monologue.
10. Allow characters to speak over one another, cutting off each other’s words.
11. Use subtext. What is unsaid—ignored, hinted at, or implied—flavors the scene and can increase conflict.
12. Avoid repetition of names in dialogue; nobody uses someone else’s name every other sentence. Use names to help the reader keep characters straight and for effect, perhaps as a means for one character to annoy another. But don’t repeat them for no reason.
13. Remember to increase tension, advance plot, and reveal character.