The title is a reference to this thread, during which I did so much complaining that I figure it's about time I put my money where my mouth is. Starting with this topic!
I'd like to note that a lot of these topics are going to be about interactions and thus, people...and I don't profess to know a whole lot about people. ^^; So if you detect any gross societal misunderstandings in here, or you just otherwise have your own helpful advice, please feel free to share.
Okay. So, a basic conversation...this first part might be a little too basic. :9 But here's how I approach dialogue when I write:
1. Establish a purpose. What is this dialogue for? Teaching a character? Teaching the reader? Showing off the characters' personalities? Building up tension? Relieving tension?
At the very least, you should know your purpose and tone before you dive in. It'll help you avoid just writing pages and pages of characters talking about nothing.
Side note: Never fool yourself into believing that your characters are so interesting and lovable that people will be willing to sit through anything they do, no matter how trivial. Those who don't love your characters that much will quickly learn to hate them, and those who do love them that much deserve better.
2. Make a checklist. This doesn't have to be a literal checklist, although sometimes that helps when you're trying to do long world-building-type dialogue.
My point is, you should have an idea of which specific talking points you want to include in each bout of dialogue. Even something as simple as "he makes a joke about her hair...and that leads to them discussing the barbershop where the murder took place".
This is basically just turning a purpose into a plan that you can follow. And most importantly, a plan that you can look back on or recreate when you need to change or refine the flow of conversation. No matter what happens, you'll always know which information has to be present so that the overall purpose can be fulfilled.
3. Write! Just write. Keep your checklist in mind, but don't be a slave to it. It's fine if one joke ends up growing into a whole paragraph of banter. Have fun with it for the moment; you can always go back and edit later.
Speaking of which: placeholders save lives. If you know what needs to be said but you just can't figure out the right way to say it, dash off a placeholder and move on. I usually write in the gist of what I want the character to say (as much as I can think of), then add in red text [FIX THIS]. Or if I'm drawing a complete blank, I just put in [SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE MAGIC BAG]; or whatever directions Future Me needs to follow when she comes back to fix that part.
And Future You WILL come back to fix it. No matter how gross or stupid your writing sounds, Future You will figure it out; you have to believe that. Trying to make a first draft into a perfect draft will only set you up for a lot of frustration and severe writer's block down the road...
4. Reassess. Come back to what you've written a couple hours later. Or days. Or weeks. And keep coming back. ^^
Re-read it and make sure it all still makes sense. Make sure the changes you made to a character's backstory yesterday are reflected in the dialogue you wrote for them last week. Or make sure your depression about your recent report card didn't affect the heartfelt conversation you wrote last month. Make sure you still find your jokes funny!
Like all art, writing is volatile, and it takes a long time (especially when you're writing for a comic...you may not see your scripts come to fruition until YEARS down the line). A lot can happen to a person's mind and style in that amount of time, so some quality control is necessary.
Of course, be careful not to let it become an obsession. After all, if you keep editing forever, you never finish. ^^; If that's a big issue for you, try writing a shorter story/comic and publishing it right away. Keep writing shorter and shorter things until you can break the habit: there's only so much editing you can do in a script that's 4 lines long. ;9
That got so basic, it just turned into general writing advice...well, now I'm going to try to cover something specific, and hopefully a little more interesting: using conversation to "teach the reader".
And I mean "teach the reader" not "teach the character". It's common to do both at the same time to soften up blatant world-building, but the two tasks require very different techniques.
All that is to say, if you know your focus is teaching the character and NOT the reader, don't do the following stuff. I can't tell you how many times I've sat through pages of detailed, long-winded explanation on things the character just happened to be learning for ONE story event that neither they nor I needed again afterwards.
If you really want to show off how much you know/have studied about a niche subject, write a nonfiction book about it; don't force it on people who came to your story for completely different things.
Alright, alright; let's begin:
When I say "teach the reader", I'm talking about teaching them about the details behind your story. Maybe they need to understand the magic system that the characters use, or the history of racism in the country the characters are living in. Maybe they need to be told the story of the great war that destroyed Earth and led to the post-apocalyptic society of the present-day...for the millionth time. ^^; Y'know, basic world-building stuff.
So how does one do this?
Use an Actual Teacher
It's common to have a 'sage' or a 'mentor' character in the cast, or at least some kind of expert in something. Don't let anyone tell you you can't use them to do exposition. Is it a unique decision? No...but it's not weird, it's not improper, and sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.
But in order to do this well, the motivations for the 'sage' (and the 'student' character you're supposedly using as a proxy for the reader) need to be clear and logical. Logic is our friend; you'll be seeing a lot of him~
-Use a sage character who actually wants to teach. And if they don't want to teach, get them to that point BEFORE having them do the exposition dump.
You'd think it wouldn't make sense for a grouchy sage who wants nothing to do with the student to give them a 3-page monologue through a closed door explaining the reasons why they chose to close themselves off from the world, essentially telling their whole life story...but I've seen such things happen. u_u
-Use a student character who actually wants to learn (and/or NEEDS to learn). A character who went to school for 10 years to learn magic shouldn't be begging for basic knowledge on the subject from anyone.
Nor should they start explaining the basics to their peers who went to the same school, not even as part of an assignment. When you do group projects at school, do you re-explain to your partners how to look things up on the internet?? And if you tried, would they really go "I know, I know...geez, Partner-chan, you're always reminding me" or would they just look at you like you had very little respect for their intelligence...?
Don't try to hide illogical events with casual speech. It doesn't work.
-Basically, make sure this conversation is between people who actually need to be having it. Teacher-student dialogue usually falls outside the range of normal conversation by its very nature: having someone teach you a new skill or give you a detailed history lesson is not an everyday occurrence. Don't pretend you don't need justification for a random tutorial scene. You DO. And you'd better have it.
Use a Casual Anecdote
This is actually kind of a difficult technique...not all kinds of exposition lend themselves to personal anecdotes.
-Social issues like racism and politics, or just a high-stakes environment- those do well here. Someone can totally mention how they nearly got killed by a monster on the way home, or how they couldn't see the movie they wanted because the "Demons Only" theater was closed for repairs.
-Technical stuff like weapons design or magic systems DO NOT do well here, unless the conversation is between two people who have enough daily exposure to those subjects to mention them casually that way. Two scientists discussing how to maintain the microscopic organisms responsible for everyone's super-human powers? Fine. Two grade-school kids? Ehhh...you're probably going to have to justify that.
-Basically, make sure that if you're going to present an aspect of your fictional world offhand like this, you keep in mind that this is a casual conversation first. Would these characters really want to randomly start talking about this? Is the subject something they'd actually care about? Is it even relevant to them?? If your answer to any one of those questions is a little shaky, you may want to try something else.
-ALSO, because this is a casual convo, you really AREN'T allowed to go too deep. The demon kid who didn't get to go to the movies shouldn't subsequently launch into a tirade about the evils of segregation and the many other injustices they were subjected to that day.
Even an innocent "Mom...how come we're not allowed to go on the humans' side?" can get very artificial very fast if you aren't careful. A child could legitimately ask that question, but 'Mom' probably shouldn't answer with a world-building essay.
^You know what'd be a cool choice in that context? Have the kid actually try to go to the 'Humans-Only' theater with the mindset of "what's the worst that could happen?" and teach the reader about racism by showing what happens~. This topic is supposed to be about conversations, though, so I won't go into that. ^^
Use a Minor Interaction
Like the 'casual anecdote', this is a limited technique that can't convey a whole lot of information. You'll want to use lots of these throughout the story to help get your message across to the reader.
-With strangers, this is pretty common. You know, the typical 'MC goes to the big bustling city; random person shoves them off the sidewalk and calls them a slur'. ^^; You see that all the time...it's not really illogical or anything, it's just so blatant and tropey at this point that you may want to avoid it outside of comedic purposes.
Besides, strangers can be useful for world building in many other, more creative ways.
Imagine a woman walking up to the register to buy something, and the cashier just ignores her. When the woman finally speaks up and demands their attention, the cashier replies "Oh, sorry...I figured you were just waiting for your husband." A little scene like that says a lot about the world this woman lives in.
-With friends and family, the possibilities are endless; anyone who grew up with a toxic relative knows this. XD It's sad though, that many people don't take advantage of the effects society can have on even those people who are considered 'good' or 'neutral'.
A parent might pressure you to lighten your skin so you can find a job. A friend might not think much of an alien kid getting bullied at school because "well, they're weird; of course people are gonna notice". Not necessarily because they're callous, or spineless...but because they're just reacting to things they consider normal.
It doesn't always have to be overtly evil characters against innocent, righteous characters. Sometimes, it's just a lot of little things.
-Also, this isn't just for social issues! Minor interactions don't do a whole lot for technical world-building aspects, but if nothing else they CAN give a reader a metric for deciding whether something is normal or abnormal.
For example, everyone in the world has some kind of magic power...but a character uses their magic to resurrect a dead person after a car accident and ALL the bystanders go WILD.
What does this tell the reader? 'Magic is normal...but magic that manipulates life and death is abnormal. There's probably a special reason the character has this power.' It makes for good setup, too. ^^
-Basically, this is a 'show, don't tell' technique. Any deep discussion about a minor interaction should happen after-the-fact, if at all. And if you want to make a character blow up/break down about something that happened in a minor interaction, make it happen after the 10th time they get offended, not the 1st. Subtle accumulation of the message is key here.
Well, that's all I have for this. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, you know what to do. I hope this helped someone out there...