Writing dialogue that is engaging and realistic is an art form and for some writers it is also a challenge along the scale of climbing a mountain, but just as one prepares for climbing a mountain, training and practice are essential in accomplishing an effective end result and experience for both writer and reader.
One of the ways to do this is to listen to dialogue in movies and television shows and the most effective way to do this is to actually only listen to the movie or show, keeping in mind that pacing is different for television programs than it is for movies. By just listening to either one of these mediums you will turn off your other senses enough to allow the dialogue to truly be heard. Nobody does dialogue better than screenwriters. Download a screenplay sometime and read it and you’ll know what I mean.
Another way to hone your dialogue skills as a writer is to just listen to conversations when you are around other people. There are more opportunities to do this than you think – the grocery store line, or any retail/service line for the matter; restaurants, amusement parks, zoos – you get the idea. One thing I’ve discovered is that people either don’t realize or just don't care how loud they are out in public, or just how much information they are revealing. The concept of TMI seems to have worsened with the proliferation of mobile devices.
In addition to finding dialogue resources writers also need to figure out how to hone any source of dialogue to render it engaging and realistic. I recently worked very late and ended up at Chicago Union Station after 10PM waiting to catch the next train. Since it was outside the normal time frame for the rush of commuters going home the trains ran less often and garnered a much different type of rider. At the time I had what I thought was the misfortune of walking near a young woman who was loudly speaking on her “smart” phone. She was quite loud, but worse than this irritating fact, was her seemingly inability to form a complete or coherent sentence which was akin to nails on a blackboard.
Her speech was dominated by just a few words and phrases to include, “You know,” and “Like,” and “I mean, you know, like,” but peppered in there were complaints about a young man who apparently didn’t see her for the prize she truly was. I was already feeling a bit brain bruised that I had been walking by her long enough to actually understand that part when I saw the entrance to the restroom and decided to take advantage of its timely availability, but then to my chagrin, she made the same choice and her words echoed even louder in the tiled-wall enclosure of the restroom.
Still I figured some relief from this annoying butchery of language would soon emerge because surely she’d have to end her call in the restroom. To my horror not only did she not end her call but she continued to talk on the phone as she relieved herself in the stall next to me. All I could think was, “I mean, you know, like, that’s gross!” I was so flabbergasted that anyone would do this – etiquette anyone? – that I apparently let her speech pattern infect my mind and that had to stop. I reminded myself that soon I’d be on the train and could put my head phones on to drown out those around me.
A few days later her speech patterns came back to me and I thought, maybe, just maybe, I could use this for a character some day. The jury is still out on that but I do know one thing – the young man who was reluctant to become involved with this young woman was making a smart choice. It was more than her lack of command of language that was annoying it was also the entire narcissistic approach she appeared to have to life in general. Talking on the phone while one is relieving themselves in a public restroom is one of the heights of disregard for others. I may just have to use these character traits in a story as well.
See, for writers, the world around us presents a wealth of material, even if some of that material is, “I mean, you know, like, gross!”