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I've thought for years that I was terrible at writing dialogue and any "dialogue" I've written would make the likes of George Lucas or Ehren Kruger burst out in gut-busting laughter at how awful it is. But, as of now, I've learnt that my dialogue writing skills are worse than I thought and I'm flat-out abysmal at creating dialogue for characters, which comes as out bland and soulless, nothing like a person would say or is stolen from more talented writers.

To understand how bad of a writer I am, read this little gem:

“B-but that’s impossible! I’ve never even heard of the Picts being dark-skinned or having Scythian tats!”

“Funny, because I also do not recall Érainn to have such a lovely skin tone like yours. And If I were a guessing girl, I would say that you have Gréagach blood in you.”

“How? How did you know that I was half-Irish?”

“You are an odd creature. A man who refuses to acknowledge his warrior heritage, the Érainn blood running through your veins.”

“But that doesn’t answer my question. How’d you figure out that I’m half-Irish and half-Greek?”

“Well, you have that crimson hair common amongst your kind, and I have heard wondrous tales of a wise, noble people living far beyond Alba with mud-brown skin who call themselves Gréagach. Does that answer your question?”

I've done everything trick in the book to improve my non-existent skills, and nothing's worked. Eavesdropping on everyday conversation doesn't do it for me thanks to my deep-seated hatred for small talk, and I don't see the point of it because it's boring, unstimulating and random while adding nothing to my already extensive pool of knowledge. Reading screenplays isn't good for much except looking for lines to steal. Novelising scenes from fictional works of a visual nature to me is tantamount to laziness and writing lousy Wattpad-tier fanfiction.

I want to be able to make poignant, memorable lines that my readers won't ever forget rather than incomprehensible drivel or vapid, "witty" quips akin to those written by Joss Whedon.

How could I possibly improve my dialogue-writing skills?

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    I feel like something bad has happened to you, and I hope you feel better soon. However, I'm not sure rude remarks about a real person are the way to go (even on the improbable offchance that he was the one who criticised your skills). And I don't think your dialogue here is anywhere near as bad as you're claiming :) – DM_with_secrets Apr 26 at 12:47
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    Also, this may not be very helpful because I have no idea why it's the case, but when I read this, I automatically hear the first speaker as a woman and the second as a man, and then feel confused when their dialogue makes it clear that it's the other way round. But I have no idea what to do about that, or whether anyone else feels the same - maybe it's just me! – DM_with_secrets Apr 27 at 12:50
  • I've edited your question to remove the name calling, while I admit that calling someone "talentless" while asking how you can write more like them is almost amusingly hypocritical there's no need. – motosubatsu Apr 27 at 14:21
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I don't think your dialogue is nearly as terrible as you claim. However it does feel very stilted because everything is stated explicitly. Currently, it feels more like an info dump.

It's much more natural for people to imply things and leave things left unsaid. For example, if a friend got a haircut, you wouldn't say: "I really like your new haircut with the fringe and the sides shaved." (or whatever) Instead, your compliment would be a lot more ambiguous: "Wow, you're looking great! Did you do something to your hair?"

Unless you had a specific question ("How did you make the fringe fall like that?") you're unlikely to explicitly describe the style at all. Your friend knows what s/he looks like, and so do you, so there's no need to outright say it.

In your snippet, it feels weird to have characters comment on each other's looks like that. Most of that is much better suited to descriptive passages, and the characters would merely reference e.g. "those tats of yours". Also, depending on cultural norms, it might be more polite not to mention some things (e.g. skin colour) at all.

It's not just description, either. Another thing that stood out to me was one character's heritage being discussed in explicit terms, too. It's a lot less jarring than the descriptions, though.

As for your example, I suggest you take a look at every (visual) detail described in dialogue and decide whether this is something that someone would actually describe in the given situation. In some cases, it might very well be exactly what you want. (In another question, you mentioned that one of the characters has an odd habit of speech. This could absolutely be a character quirk, but then it shouldn't be both characters doing it.)

I also recommend this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfQpJxRP8ew ("10 Tips On Writing Better Dialogue" - It's focused on screen writers, but most of the tips apply in general.)

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Eavesdropping on everyday conversation doesn't do it for me thanks to my deep-seated hatred for small talk, and I don't see the point of it because it's boring, unstimulating and random while adding nothing to my already extensive pool of knowledge.

You are closing yourself off to understand the purpose of small talk. Personality and connection. In real life, people use small talk as a means of "assessing their surroundings and the situation". You familiarize yourself with the personalities and emotional state of others in the conversation. It isn't what is said, but how.

Others have already mentioned that the dialogue is a bit stiff and a little awkward, but I feel like there are two big things that cause that. The awkwardness could be partly explained by context. Maybe the characters are from different cultures, and the speech pattern is meant to match a different language or something like that. The stiffness issue however, I think comes more from the amount of exposition being directly dumped into the dialogue without any breaks.

This short bit of dialogue gave me so much information that I am a little lost in what is actually going on, and more just trying to keep track of what they are talking about. The characters don't have to actually say everything they are thinking, and a massive part of communication is body language and visual cues, as well as tone of voice. Those things probably count for more than the actual spoken words themselves.

Try breaking up the dialogue by inserting statements about the way things are said, or how the characters are physically reacting to statements. You can include internal thoughts between statements as a means to convey a more detailed idea, without them actually saying things that don't really need to be said.

Honestly, the only truly stiff parts of this dialogue are the male character's lines. the first statement sounds very pompous by first saying something is impossible and then immediately saying the speaker has never known something, which feels like it implies that he thinks if he hasn't heard of it, it must not be possible. The questions then are actually giving more information to the other speaker than was every implied, and they come out unnaturally because a normal person wouldn't do that.

The woman is making an assumption and the man is directly confirming it by not only saying that he is Irish and Greek, but offering that he is half of each. From the woman's statements all she necessarily knows is that the man has some ancestry in those cultures. It could be half, or it could be a quarter, or it could be an eighth. Dormant traits have been often known to surface two or three generations down the line. A more natural response would probably be a silent, physical reaction, followed by a more cautious question. The whole thing might be something more like:

“B-but that’s ridiculous! I’ve never even heard of the Picts being dark-skinned or having Scythian tats!” He thought the idea to be laughable.

“Funny, because I also do not recall Érainn to have such a lovely skin tone like yours." she said with an almost flirtatious wit, "And If I were a guessing girl, I would say that you have Gréagach blood in you.”

He stiffened at the accuracy of her statement. He wondered how she could possibly know his heritage, they'd only just met.

“You are an odd creature." she said with a smirk and a glance that felt as if she were peering into his mind, "A man who refuses to acknowledge his warrior heritage, the Érainn blood running through your veins.”

“And how do you know anything of where I might come from?"

She didn't answer at first, only watched him as if gauging how best to respond. Then she smoothly shift her hips and slowly stepped across the room.

“Well, you have that crimson hair common amongst your kind, and I have heard wondrous tales of a wise, noble people living far beyond Alba with mud-brown skin who call themselves Gréagach. Does that answer your question?”

I added a bit to the scene, but I needed to fill in some details so I did my best to assume. It is just an example of course, but I hope it helps you to understand a little bit better how to carry the scene. At this point the only information we really lost is the specifics of being half Irish and half Greek, but that detail isn't really important to the scene at all, and likely something that the reader would already know or could easily learn later in the story if necessary.

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