Bad dialogue in a book or movie is like a sour note in a song. It separates you from the reverie of the story experience. So what is it about good dialogue that makes it good? A discussion on the Black Board forums got me thinking about this. Contributors to the discussion point out that some bad lines cannot be saved, even by the best actors. And definitely not by a lesser actor. The humorous example given? It’s a scene from a 1987 movie called Tough Guys Don’t Dance. See for yourself.
TV comedy writer Ken Levine says that good dialogue has a rhythm and flow to it. Each character speaks in his or her own unique way. And they often avoid directly saying what they want.
I also like the dialogue tips found here and here. Both authors mention that good dialogue is unexpected, surprising, and richer than ordinary conversation. I know the lines I typically remember are those that express the character’s sentiment in the scene perfectly and also are stated creatively, or in a way I’ve never heard before. It’s probably wise to bear in mind that boring characters don’t say clever, interesting things. So good characters and good dialogue are really companions to each other.