What else besides proper motivation makes a fictitious character seem real? One important element is dialogue.
Any number of writing instruction books deal with the basics of dialogue, from speaker attribution to subtexting. And as important as those aspects of writing dialogue are, they do not insure that the characters will come alive.
I think there are two key ingredients that turn dialogue into a tool which helps form realistic characters. The first is to avoid wooden speech.
In the same way that a person doesn’t talk the way he writes, a character’s dialogue shouldn’t read the same as narrative. Elastic speech is a product of several things: the use of fragments, the use of contractions, the use of slang, the use of interruption, the use of pause.
Here’s a short example from Sweet Waters by Julie Carobini ( B&H Books):
“You’re both stubborn, if you ask me.”
We answer in unison. “Am not!”
We scooch ourselves into the built-in booth, and I snag a fry, thankful for the lightness of the moment. Mel takes a whammy of a bite from her burger. “Ahm. Stahved.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I scold.
Camille wags her head, curls flopping all around her. “Nothing’s changed here.” She turns to Shane. “Of the three of us, Tara’s always been like the mom . . .”
Mel swallows her bite. “Yeah, like the mean, old mom.”
Elastic, not wooden.
Next time, we’ll look at character voice.