I've touched on this subject in other posts, but felt it bared mentioning again, since it happens to be a favorite of mine:
I love to write dialogue. This is where we get to bring our characters to life. Show the world who they are. Expose their inner most secrets and deepest, darkest thoughts... and maybe some of our own along the way. But it's important to get it right--I can't stress this enough.
I can't think of anything more cringe-worthy than wooden, stuffy dialogue. Except maybe making your character say something that is totally out of character.
These are people you created. You breathed life into them. Gave them purpose... so, why would you want to make them say stupid things?
It's imperative that you first figure out who your character is. Are they shy? A bit dull? A smart ass? A raving lunatic? Once you've figured that out, build them a life, even one that reaches beyond the confines of your story.
In my book, The First, my male lead is named Michael. He isn't my protag but he's important enough that I had a this burning need to figure out who he was, so I wrote his life. All of it. Once I sort of revealed to myself the kind of guy I wanted him to be, hearing his voice was surprisingly easy. There has never been a question of, "would he say something like that?" because I knew everything there was to know about him. Sound crazy?
You'd be surprised how many people sit down to write a short story or a novel without fully understanding the characters they're trying to write. Doing so will cause you nothing but trouble... not to mention create confusion and distrust in your reader. So that's rule # 1:
Figure out who your characters are before you go putting words in their mouths.
This will not only effect what they'd say, but also how they would say it and allow you to create a well rounded, totally believable character that your reader will not only understand, but empathize with.
Rule # 2:
Not English. Language. The way people talk. Real people. Most people have their own verbal short hand that is unique to them. Very few people that are not British royalty actually speak in complete sentences on a consistent basis. The next time you go out for drinks with friends or spend an afternoon at the mall (may God have mercy on your soul), listen to the conversations around you and you'll see what I mean.
Rule # 3:
Huh? Yes, watch movies. Today, my husband blasted me for wanting a television in my writing office. I told him it served a very important function, and it does. Movies are the best way I know to get a feel for the rhythm of speech. The back and forth of dialogue between characters. If you're writing a thriller--that's what you watch. If you're writing a romance, watch one of those. Really pay attention to the way the characters within the story interact with each other. Give it a try, you'll see what I mean.
Got a plot problem? firstname.lastname@example.org