I’ve mentioned here before that one of the useful jobs I’ve had in recent years that helped my dialog writing skills was a job I had transcribing denial letters for an insurance company. Our company wasn’t involved in health care or life insurance. We were a property and casualty company, and the agents I worked for were concerned with auto and homeowners insurance. (No, they weren’t the “agents” you’d go to for a home insurance quote. Rather, they were “customer service” reps or “adjusters” whom you would talk with when you filed a claim with your agent and the agent sent it to them for resolution. Anyway.)
I still think this was a very valuable experience, because I spent most of my time transcribing letters and transcribing accident interviews. In the process, I had to learn to type EXACTLY what I heard in the old headphones of the dictation machine. I couldn’t leave out a single, “uh, oh, well uh …,” or any sound made by the agent or the interviewee.
If you’ve ever done a job like that, you know that most dialog you read in a novel or short story, or even in many so-called interviews, has been cleaned up or “prettied up” in ways that are not real. Yet you also learn that readers expect to read this more cleaned up version of dialog. If you really created characters who spoke with all the stutters and mumbles, readers would quickly bog down in the mess and lose interested in reading what your characters are saying.
But I like to think doing extensive transcription work for a couple of years helped me. By being forced to really LISTEN to what people say in dictations and interviews, I have a better feeling for how to make my dialog “realistic,” yet readable.
If you have such an opportunity, I urge you to take advantage of even a short stint doing transcriptions. You can learn from the experience and help yourself as a writer.