In no particular order...
Each speaker has a unique personality and background. They come from a certain income and education level. All of this affects how they speak. When they greet people, do they say "Hey," "Hi," or "What's up?" How about "Yo," or even just a curt head nod? Or the even more abrasive "What?" What does this say about them?
Jordan Catalano is famous for being a guy of few words.
You wouldn't speak to your grandmother the way you'd speak to your best friend, or to your best friend the way you'd speak to your worst enemy. Your audience affects how you tell a story, what parts you exaggerate, and how honest you are.
If your grandmom asked you what you did last night, your answer would probably be, "I went out with some friends," whereas you'd tell your BFF, "I finally hooked up with [Insert Superhot Crush's Name Here]!"
Answers to "How are you?"
To Polite Stranger: "I'm fine, thanks."
To Worst Enemy: "My life is excellent."
To Doctor: "I have a problem with excessive flatulence."
To Patrick Verona: "Sweating like a pig, actually, and yourself?"
Because every post can use a little 10 Things I Hate About You.
Anything unspoken that occurs below the surface of the conversation. Meaning, what are they REALLY saying? Is your character sobbing but claims, "I'm fine"? Tone can be used to convey this well. Or how about the parallel conversation that's not about what it's actually about.
And because subtext can be strongest in one-sided romance, here's an example from my own unrequited adolescent crush from the 90s:
Me: Hi, John! That's a really cool trick you did on your skateboard.
Subtext: I'm madly in love with you. You're the hottest guy ever. Please don't reject me. Oh my God, I can't believe I'm talking to you. This is it. I know it. You'll tell me you like me too. We're so meant to be.
Subtext: ...4. Tags
"Said." That's it. And maybe "asked." But be aware that a question mark doesn't always indicate a question. Sometimes it's still a statement.
** Clarification from my brilliant commenters: Sometimes "said" isn't the absolute strongest choice. But use sparingly. Keep the non-"said"s to 1% of your tags. Maybe 2%. And oftentimes, you don't need a tag at all. I've spent a good chunk of my latest round of novel revisions on REMOVING my tags altogether -- and I can't believe I forgot to say that in the first place. Thanks guys!
Here's the reason you don't need anything but "said." The actions you slip in between dialogue will SHOW what's going on and how people are speaking. This is a delicate balance. Don't try to describe everything you'd see in a TV show. If you note every. single. movement. it slows down your dialogue and ruins the flow of conversation. And don't OD on the sighing, shrugging, hand gestures, swallowing, eye rolling, turning, and lip biting. But inserting just the right amount of action allows a reader to envision the scene and adds depth to the conversation.
SCENE: Rachel panics after locking herself and Ross out of their apartment while their baby is sleeping inside.
How would you write this scene to keep the pacing and the humor while showing some of it?
I PRESENT YOU...
Linkovich Chomofsky's Actual Relevant Links from Smart People:
If you actually got this Encino Man reference, I applaud you.
- Barry Lyga's 5 amazing posts on dialogue advice: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
That's all for part one! Check out PART TWO -- featuring Dawson's Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show and movie), Clueless, Harry Potter, and Mean Girls!