Man, I just finished reading a book that looked like it would be good – but it was awful. The basic plot was interesting, so I was trying to figure out what had killed it. There were three main things I came up with that we all need to watch out for.
Many things the characters said did not feel real at all. They used big words and strange expressions, things that people don’t really say. I’ll admit, dialogue is a hard thing to nail, and it takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth getting down.
Compare these two sentences:
- “When it rains outside, I do not wish to go out. However, sometimes I need to.”
- “Rain sucks! I wish I didn’t have to go out in it, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”
You see the difference? Dialogue also depends on your character’s voice and age. Maybe your character really does talk like the first sentence! But probably they don’t.
If you’re thinking that dialogue is something you need to brush up on, listen to people talk. It’s okay to steal words from them. Another great thing to do is read your dialogue out loud. You’ll be able to catch things that don’t sound real.
Here’s the second thing that really bothered me – many things that happened to the characters weren’t realistic. The situations the characters got into didn’t feel like they would really happen under the rules the author had set up.
Let me give you an example all of us know pretty well. The plot’s moving along, you’re caught up in the mystery, wondering what’s going on. Then you find out – it’s aliens.
The author uses a copout ending to explain everything! The reason it’s annoying is because nothing the writer did set this up to be a satisfying ending.
Watch for this in your novel, because it can be hard to detect. The easiest way to make sure that your audience swallows everything you’ve written is to foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow. Yes, you don’t want to make every plot turn obvious, but you don’t want to make them totally random either.
In this novel, the characters were motivated by things I didn’t connect with at all. I didn’t understand where the characters were coming from or why they were doing but they were doing.
It was especially a problem with the side characters and antagonists. It’s not too difficult to give your main character something realistic that they want – freedom, a better life, love. These all work well. But when an antagonist’s only goal is world domination… That’s a warning sign. We are all motivated by deeper things, even bad guys.
The easiest way to see how you’re doing here is to have someone who will give you honest feedback read over your story, looking for this in particular.
Do you see the connection between these three? They all kicked the reader out of the story, all made it seem less real. Don’t do that your readers.