One of the things I love doing while working at camp is participating in skits. Some of the greatest skits are funny because the staff alter the lines. They used the script as a guide, but the actors tweaked the actual words to make the scene feel more real. Technically, if they had followed the original lines directly, the skit would have been the same, but the humor and comedic elements were much greater when they took charge of the dialogue.
Sometimes, our dialogue needs to be reworked so different elements can stand stronger. Dialogue is often viewed as a small part of the whole story, but it shouldn't just guide the story. The words the character say should drive the plot, bring characters to life, and relentlessly capture the reader's attention. Here are a few ways you can make your dialogue awesome.
1. Remember that not everyone is an eloquent speaker.
Not every exchange between characters needs to be a long, dramatic monologue, rich with life changing quotes. Everything your characters say should have a purpose to the story, but they also need to relate to the reader. It's okay to have them stumble, hesitate, take back something they said. Some of the greatest stories have beautiful, imperfect dialogue.
2. Every character should not contain the vocabulary of the author.
Having a semi-large vocabulary is part of being a writer. But not all you characters know all the words you do. Keep in mind generation, geography, age, and education when writing dialogue. For example, normal people don't use the word "pleasant" all the time, but until I just pointed it out, you probably didn't notice. Different people choose their words differently, and a writer must consider this.
3. Misunderstandings are okay, as long as they happen between characters and enhance character or advance plot.
You should always provide the reader enough information to know what's going on and what's being said. But a moment or two of miscommunication between characters add a layer of authenticity. Use this to also help readers get to know characters' flaws better or foreshadow a plot element. Used carefully, a misunderstanding strengthens the whole feel of a story.
4. Some characters should speak less than others especially if their personality is a "few words" type.
A common mistake is to have all the characters in the story speak the same amount. This doesn't mean that your main character should have more time to speak than your secondary cast, but there should be a variety. Don't forget to use actions, facial expressions, tone, and even silence to communicate.
5. Your main character's thoughts should occasionally react to their own spoken words.
Their actions should not be the only thing accompanying their words. A character that is in an argument might throw something. Here, an action works with the dialogue. But, what if a character insults someone and they feel guilty about their words? Here, thoughts would work together with dialogue.
What do you focus on in your dialogue? How do you make your characters sound different?