So what is good dialogue made of?* It is made of voice. This is when the writer must earn his or her keep. Writing strong voice comes only with time, with hanging out for long hours with a character, with writing everything you know about a character and then writing the character’s words. At some point deep into this process you begin to learn (“hear”) – gain a sensibility of – what this character sounds like. You zero in and can ascertain what this character would say and how they would say it in any given situation.
This is not unlike collecting leaves. I venture into the woods to pick up pin oak leaves. I know what this leaf looks like because I have seen one before, maybe I have one at home. Of all the leaves, it is the leaf I want. I start by looking at every leaf I see and making a determination if it is a pin oak. This is slow and painful. I want to quit. I think that I’ll never find the pin oak. But then I see one, and sure enough, it is just as perfect as I remember. So I look for another leaf that matches. The next one I find is a bit bigger and has a slightly different color, but it is a pin oak and matches the one I already have.
So it is when working with voice. You have a specimen, an idea, so you begin to play along these lines. You try over and over to repeat the trick to develop the voice into speech. In time all you see are the pin oak leaves. All others are litter on the forest floor.
*I am going to assume you read my post of 30 January 2013. For maximum enjoyment of this post, if you haven’t, go back and read it first.