How to Write Dialogue

Dialogue is probably one of the most important things to master in your writing.  Dialogue creates action.  It shows rather than tells.  And it’s a great way to define your characters without stopping the story to write description, which will slow down your pace.

Dialogue should serve a specific purpose.  It could show conflict between characters:

“I can’t believe you did that to me!”

It could bring up new information:

“You’re married?”

It could help the readers to get to know your characters better:

“Today’s my birthday.”

It can be the start of a new chain of action for your story:

“You’re moving away?”

It can even foreshadow your climax:

“He’s going to kill you.”

Try to avoid small talk.  Good dialogue needs to have a point, and a purpose for being in your story.  It needs to advance the plot in some way.  If it doesn’t, you might want to consider removing it, or adding some element of conflict to it.

Dialogue can be tricky to write when you’re first starting out.  Each character needs to have his or her own voice.  You’ll want to decide which words are in each character’s vocabulary.  Do they have words or phrases that they use often?  Do they have a funny way of wording things?  Is this character a big talker, or are they very brief and to the point?  Do they talk slowly or quickly?  Do they tend to speak positively or negatively?  What is his or her viewpoint? What sort of a mood is this character in?  These are all ways to control how each character sounds.  Once you have this down, your reader should be able to determine which character is speaking just by reading the dialogue.

Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid clutter while writing dialogue.  Again, this will slow down your pace.  It’s best to let the dialogue speak for itself.  Here’s a great example from The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith, Jr.

“Spit it out,” she said, fiddling with his necktie.

She seemed unable to make eye contact with him.  That confirmed it for him.  He thought he’d be on safe ground telling her why he’d been so cool toward her lately.

He yanked the tie from her hands.  “I don’t trust you.”

He adjusted the knot and made sure the point of the tie touched the middle of his belt buckle.

Now, see what this same scene looks like without the excess description:

“Spit it out,” she said, fiddling with his necktie.

He yanked the tie from her hands.  “I don’t trust you.”

A great way to improve your dialogue is to read good dialogue. Try reading screenplays, which are basically all dialogue. Notice which words the writer is using, and how the dialogue itself tells the story, rather than relying on description. Notice how it keeps the plot moving. Practice this in your own writing.

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