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What Did You Say?

Print“Make sure the dialogue is authentic.”

I am sure many instructional design teams have heard such a request. It is after such a comment that I inevitably sit in front of my computer and wonder how to create truly authentic dialogue.

The truth is that authenticity is subjective. One person’s authenticity will be very different than other person’s.

Inevitably, we have client’s who feel that using contractions makes dialogue authentic, and others who insist that the dialogue shouldn’t include contractions. The levels and variations of authenticity are vast.

Here are some reminders for writing good, solid dialogue:

  1. Do your homework. Ask how the client would define authentic for their audience base. Find out the demographic of the audience and the characters represented through dialogue. That is the first step toward authenticity. Good dialogue begins with creating characters. If you have a character in mind, then the dialogue will flow from that individual character. Think about the character—create the character.
  2. Listen to the way people talk. When I teach dialogue to my writing students, I tell them to politely eavesdrop on their friends or other people around them. Of course, I tell them to stop if it get’s too personal. But, it helps to listen to the way individuals discuss topics together. It is easy to create characters who all speak similarly—and far too often, they speak far too similarly to the writer. Before you sit down to write dialogue, spend some time listening.
  3. Create a character. Don’t skimp on creating a persona for the characters. It will save you time in the long run by giving you enough fuel to keep the character going.
  4. Make the dialogue meaningful. Be sure that what you include in dialogue is best expressed through dialogue.
  5. Be sure to have action mixed in with the dialogue. The dialogue should support the entire interaction, so including staging directions is important.
  6. Read it aloud. For my current project, we read all the dialogue aloud as a team and work on capturing the style and voice the client wants. As soon as you hear the dialogue you get a real sense for your authenticity and pacing.
  7. Everyone speaks differently. Keep in mind that individual preferences always crop up in dialogue. Be willing to give and take as you work with clients.