I'd like to talk for a moment about a miracle.
Now, those who read this post regularly might remember that miracles are not part of my belief system. I generally put my trust in science and verifiable fact ahead of faith in pretty much anything. But there is the odd exception at which I marvel, even if I'm not attributing that phenomenon to any higher power.
And I speak here of speaking. I talk of talking. Am I not being clear?
Human conversation just knocks me out. It amazes me in so many different ways. It makes me stop and shake my head in wonderment when I actually consider what's going on when two--or better, more--people get together and just talk. About anything. Yes, even the election, although I would like to take something of a break on talking about that. Suffice it to say that I have no argument with people of color assuming the color isn't orange.
But that's beside the point. Conversation. Think about it. You have a thought. You take that thought and convert it to a verbal expression. Then you voice that expression to someone who can hear it. That person hears what you're saying (or signs it, if that is the mode of communication), comprehends it (assuming you're being coherent) and responds to it almost at the moment you are finished expressing that thought.
That's amazing. We humans have the ability to compute and analyze verbal communication we didn't know we were going to hear and respond to it pretty much immediately. How is that not a secular miracle?
Now. Let's talk about dialogue. That's right--the words writers put into the mouths of their characters in an attempt to get them to communicate with each other (and, quite frequently and unfortunately, to dispense plot information). When you're writing dialogue, your character who is not speaking at the moment doesn't know what is going to be said. S/he doesn't have a written transcript of the coming speech and in all likelihood does not have hours or days during which to fashion an appropriate response.
Your characters are having a conversation. They are not trading speeches. It makes me crazy when writers of novels, screenplays, theater works or any other fiction refer to things their characters say as "speeches." When you're talking to the guy at the Post Office and you ask if Forever Stamps (best deal ever) will always be valid postage--something that should be obvious from the name, I'm just saying--are you making a speech? No, you're not. You're having a conversation. That's what your characters are doing, too.
Conversation assumes that the people involved can't foresee what's coming. It assumes that the thoughts being expressed, no matter how long they're been in the person's mind, are just being put into words for the first time. Conversation isn't perfect. It isn't gorgeous. It's sloppy and improvised. It's human.
That doesn't mean dialogue in a story should be people grunting and being inarticulate. Stylized dialogue is fine in the right setting. Banter is my favorite game to play. Do most people talk like that? Probably not. Does it work for my story? I like to think so. But the message to be taken away from all this blather is that your dialogue needs to sound like your characters. It needs to be real for them. It needs to sound like they're having a conversation and making it up as they go. That's conversation.
And that's a miracle.
P.S. By the way, get a copy of WRITTEN OFF. Here are excerpts from a few reviews.