Dialogue is used to disseminate information—but not information like: “Hi. How are you?” “Fine. And you?” “Ok.” “Good.” The reader is yawning before s/he even gets to the word “fine.”
One of the ways to help write good dialogue is to type out all the narration for information about a scene, an event in the book, or what's happened recently in a character's life. THEN go back and change it all to dialogue. You'll be surprised at the difference this makes, not only to the pace of the story, but to identify which character is speaking.
Another test is to write a page or two of untagged or unidentified dialogue—then determine which character is saying what. If you've been successful in your characterization, you'll be able to tell who's speaking by what they say, and how they say it.
Dialogue also helps to establish a sense of time and place. In historicals, for instance, the pacing is different than contemporary novels. The language is more formal, without the use of contractions and partial sentences that distinguishes contemporary novels.
Dialogue can set the mood or tone. For example, characters who interrupt each other, who disagree, or who speak in quick, harsh words, means one thing. The same characters carefully listening to each other, speaking in softer words, can mean another.
Dialogue can and often should be used as an opening hook. For example, the opening sentence for my historical family saga, HIGH DOMINION, is: "Good heavens, Olivia! Isn't that Kate?"
These two simple sentences imply a touch of scandal and excitement. We don’t know yet who the characters are, but there are at least two: one who is scandalized, the other who is… what? Cringing? Curious? Angry? Resigned? Ideally, the reader is interested enough to find out what Kate is doing to cause such a reaction.
NOT NECESSARILY DIALOGUE, BUT A FEW THINGS TO AVOID NEVERTHELESS:
Stay away from physical contortions. You can’t laugh a word, or snort a word. You can’t hiss a word unless it has an ‘”s” in it, and then it’s better to use “she hissed” after a phrase that’s gone before.
A different example for physical contortions. “His eyes followed her across the room.” How did they do that? Did they fall out of his head and roll after her? It should be his ‘glance’ , or his ‘gaze’ followed her…
Another problem is the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. For example: “She whispered softly.” Softly isn’t necessary; when someone whispers, it’s soft.
This isn’t exactly dialogue, but suggestive of it. “He shrugged his shoulders.” What else do you “shrug” than shoulders?
And finally (a bugaboo of mine): “She nodded her head.” Same question as above. What else do you nod, other than your head?
Meanwhile, here are a few links you might find useful:
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Sweeter than Wine at Amazon and Musa Publishing
Love is sweeter than wine, but so is...revenge.
Terra Cavanaugh had buried the past deep in her mind. She didn’t remember, even when her dying father called to ask her to save the family’s century-old winery from bankruptcy. It was her last chance to rescue her inheritance—and to confront disturbing visions she didn’t understand.
Jake Vreeland had suffered unspeakable loss. When nightmares haunted him, he braved mortal danger to save others. He and his search dog were soon among the best rescue teams in the world—but at a high price. For Jake was searching for something he couldn’t find. He needed rescue himself—from dreams that tormented him, from guilt that weighed him down.
Terra and Jake meet when she returns to Coeur du Vin. They don’t know that they are both searching for rescue, until it becomes clear that someone wants to stop her from saving Coeur du Vin, someone with… murder in mind.
Touched by Fire at Amazon and Musa Publishing
In a winner-take-all match race only one can win, never challenge a woman who won't give up or give in.
Briar McKenna has spent years trying to find her lost family. Then she inherits the once-famed Caulfield Farm, a Thoroughbred ranch in northern California that belonged to her great-grandparents, Marguerite and Sloane Caulfield. Joyously she restores the farm and enters the elite world of Thoroughbred racing, hiring the secretive Stefan Yager as ranch manager. They become lovers.
Then a man named Rupert Jaeger reignites a century-old feud, vowing to destroy her and the Caulfield name. Briar can’t understand why until she finds Marguerite’s journals—and meets an old man named Gillie, who as a boy was a groom at Caulfield Farm. Gillie is the key to this complicated story of loves lost and found, treachery, greed—and even an ancient, unsolved murder.
And now, I’ll quietly say goodbye.