You cannot learn more than what you can as you watch other people. It’s the best education you can have. Watch how people talk. Don’t just listen. Watch carefully.
How does the teen answer a nagging parent?
How does the teen talk on the phone to his different friends?
How does the husband talk about his job both on good days and bad days?
How does the senior citizen talk about their health problems?
What words do they use?
How do they stand or sit while they speak or are spoken to?
What is tone and how does it change with the topic or the people they are talking to?
Do you see that certain phrases or tones set people off?
In my house there are five people, including myself. There is a man in his mid-forties, a woman in her mid-sixties, a sixteen year old boy, and a nearly thirteen year old girl. Each of them has a different way of talking. Besides being individual people, they are all at different points in their lives as well as different genders. They each can give me great dialogue material.
The point is not to stay within your own little world. We tend to stay in our own bubble and care only about what is directly influencing us.
I can’t emphasis enough about taking notes. You might think you’ll remember everything, but very few people have such good memories. Jotting down notes helps a great deal in the long run.
Keep a small notebook with you at all times and of course a pen or pencil. In a pinch you can use your smartphone.
As you are sitting in the airport, note the type of people around you. Are they saying unique phrases? Write them down. Maybe it is a word or phrase you are unfamiliar with. Write it down and look it up later. It will help you keep your characters realistic.
Notice the Scene
How people talk can also be affected by the scene. Where they are, who is with them, and the events going on around them are huge contributors to the dialogue. For example…
If two people are in the library, how will they talk? More than likely they will whisper. How does that sound? How is their body language different when they whisper. Maybe they aren’t whispering? What is happening different now?
Nothing in a story stands alone. Everything affects everything around it. Dialogue affects action and plot. Scene affects dialogue, action, and characters as well as plot. Everything goes hand in hand.