Dialogue is a beast. It sometimes seems easy to write and flows well when read out loud. Other times it sounds clunky and forced. Writing short snippets of dialogue based on a scenario, or a moment in time, or a part of an overhead conversation seems to me to be the only real way to improve writing dialogue. In other words, just practice. Practice like this little exchange here between two college-aged friends.
Beth cocked her face to the side. “Was your mom mad?” She was impatient with her friend already. These stories of hers had a tendency to drag on far longer than absolutely necessary.
“Nah,” Brittany said with a shake of her head. “My parents are like whatever. Well maybe not like ‘whatever,’” she amended. “I mean, they don’t want me to die.”
“Yeah. You go out a lot, right?” She knew the answer to that already. Only last week Brittany had told her about some rager at a frat party that was apparently ‘the shit’.
“I drink a lot. I know it’s bad, but I can hang.”
Beth resisted the urge to laugh. Last time she had been at the same party as Brittany her erstwhile friend had taken three shots of vodka and spent the next two hours stumbling around the place. Definitely not hanging.
Brittany continued, “Like last Thursday—no, no, no—two Thursdays ago. Man, I drove drunk.”
“No.” She tried to sound surprised, really she did. She widened her eyes and everything. But nothing that girl did surprised her anymore.
“I was so scared. Like, you have no idea. First of all, like, I was also kind of dumb because I had my hoochie heels on and I couldn’t feel the pedals right.”
“Oh shit.” Beth knew what heels she meant and it sounded like a near impossibility to drive in those big clear suckers. Even driving to her internship in her much more respectable black office heels was difficult.
Brittany nodded and sat up straighter; there was no stopping her now. “And then I, like fuck, I, like, stopped and took them off ‘cause my heel hit the brake and I couldn’t feel. Like I would push it all the way. Well, anyways, I was scared—“
“Yeah.” She drummed her nails on the tabletop and checked the time on her phone in her lap. God, if this story dragged on any longer her IQ might drop.
Brittany nodded, apparently not catching the shift in Beth’s voice. “I felt like I was driving stupid, and I was like ‘Oh my God. Like, my life is over.’”
She was lucky it wasn’t over, Beth thought, but all she said was, “How far did you drive?”
Brittany waved her hand in the air dismissively. “It wasn’t that far. Like, Chicago to the dorms.”
Beth shook her head and told her she was lucky she didn’t kill someone.
Something I often forget to do, but tried there at the end, is reported dialogue. Once a character’s voice has been established the actual text of what they say doesn’t always have to be spelled out directly, especially if you are trying to streamline something. Which I don’t do often enough.