The goal when you’re writing dialogue is to give a different voice to each character so everybody talks differently. It doesn’t have to be major, and it can include mannerisms, like biting a nail of shuffling feet. Hand and body movement, and facial expressions are all part of dialogue—the constant advice you hear to “show, don’t tell.” That way you don’t have to use a tag.
You could write: “I didn’t have nothing to do with taking that book,” she lied. However, it’s much better if you write: She sat huddled in the chair, head down so she couldn’t meet his eyes, her voice a whisper. “I didn’t have nothing to do with taking that book.” You’re not telling; you’re showing she’s lying.
I’m going to use my Southern novel, Maddie’s Choice,” for examples of dialogue because it has many characters of all ages and experience. Maddie is from New York, early thirties, writer of romance novels, and she has writer’s block. She’s on an Arkansas cattle ranch she’s inherited half of, to get her mojo back. New Yorkers are brash, smart-mouthed, and they tell it like it is. (Donald Trump a case in point.) She uses a lot of clichés. Her arrival at the ranch is greeted with unexplained hostility. She quips, “Not quite the reception I expected, but it will have to do. Don’t bother to kill the fatted calf, I’ve had lunch.” Nobody laughs. She finally loses her patience at her hostile reception, turns to the gorgeous hunk of man, Gideon, who is the owner of the other half of the ranch, and demands help with her luggage. With a smirk fit to cow a New York waiter into submission, she says, “Since you seem to be in charge, Macho Man, it’s your call.”
Pete is the grizzled, elderly ranch foreman, wise but unsophisticated, Southern to the core. His opinion of Chardonnay wine that Maddie brought is: “I never did care much for grapes in a bunch; don’t know why I’d like ‘em in a bottle, but it gets the job done.” He tells Maddie, “You’re gonna be a hard dog to keep, under the porch, ain’t ya?”
Gideon is ex-military with a bad case of PTSD, which has made him avoid getting close to anyone. He’s well educated and speaks five languages, all Afghan dialect. He’s lonely and is attracted to Maddie, but she confuses him. I’ve given him a habit that expresses this. When he’s confused because she talks too fast for him to keep up, he says, “Well, Hell.”
Maddie’s Choice is about small-town Southern living and culture. Maddie encounters sweet tea and Ritz Cracker Pie as well as a motorcycle drug gang. One of the comedy characters in the book is the sheriff’s wife who dresses like Dale Evans and ends every sentence with, “So to speak.”
Writing dialogue is the best part of the book for me. Visit my website at http://joycezeller.com or my Amazon Author’s page to read more. Each of my novels is a different location with a different dialogue style.