Dialogue is one of the primary ways of conveying characterization to readers. It’s a hugely essential part of most stories because it’s such and essential part of many people’s day-to-day lives. We talk, and so do our characters. Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy to get dialogue right.
One common problem is that dialogue can easily lead you into extraneous conversations. The reason being that because it is such a huge part of the every day, it’s all to easy to think ‘this sounds like a normal conversation, so it must be right’. The problem is, in the realm of the story, every conversation has to have a purpose. Take a look at places where your scenes feel a little draggy. Are you finding your characters have a lot of side conversation? Or do they restate things that have already been established unnecessarily (obviously, there are reasons to restate things, so use your judgement here)? Maybe the conversation goes around in circles between two characters? These might all be signs of excess dialogue.
Remedying excess speech is easy as quite literally, cutting it out. Unless something interested happened at work, your characters don’t need to discuss it. Same with the weather or other small-talk topics. Even when you have characters meeting for the first time, get right to the interesting bits. Another all too common place for excess speech: saying ‘I love you’ or expressing affection via compliments. There are definitely places where those both belong, but those little words are supposed to be impactful, make sure the important moments for them aren’t being bogged down by excess use elsewhere.
Another problem that might occur is stilted dialogue, or the sort of dialogue that sounds fake. This isn’t always such an easy problem to fix, but a really quick check you can use: are you using contractions? Remember, when you’re right a story, you’re not bound by the rules of High School English Class in which Thou Shalt Not Use Contractions. Contractions occur naturally in real life, there’s very few reasons your character wouldn’t use them (and those reasons can usually tell us a huge amount about the character).
One more quick check for stilted dialogue to help loosen it up is sentence fragments. Again, you’re not bound by the English Class rules. People answer questions with sentence fragments all the time in real life. They also start their sentences with and, but, or. As long as your meaning and topic are clear, fragments and partial sentences are okay in dialogue.
Writing good dialogue is hard, but keeping an eye on problematic things can go a long way towards helping you get better. What are some of your dialogue woes?