Tips on Writing Dialogue

Admin User Exercises, Tools & Tips, Uncategorized

Some advice and an exercise from Paul for 15-01-2021

  • Dialogue is good for expanding both character and plot
    • Publishers often say novels need more if it!
    • It draws the reader in and can move the action if the story along quickly
  • Good dialogue is real… but not too real
    • Listen to real conversations. It’s full of pauses and unfinished senrtances and Grammar is often less than rigorous
    • Slang and dialect are useful toold, but don’t over do those, or filler words like um and err.
    • You can also leave out introductions and the like.
  • Let each line make its point and then move on
    • It must be said for a reason, so keep the words clear and concise.
  • Most people say 50 words at most in any one speech
    • But often much shorter, perhaps one word, or nothing at all, so use an action or reaction to balance the speech
  • The dialogue tag “said” is the most unobtrusive, especially when following the actual speech.
    • But once characters and the scene are established you can often do without them entirely
    • Sometimes you may want to put it before speech, to idnicate more quickly who is speakimg
  • Pauses or non-verbal communication can add depth and realism
    • Characters may glance away, shift their weight, or make other small actions during a conversation
  • Make your characters talk to each other, not to the reader
    • Even if you are introducing some exposition or subtext make sure the premis and content of the conversation is believable
  • Read it back aloud and leave out the boring bits
    • Some authors suggest that you say you dialogue out loud as you write it
    • When you edit you can remove or tidy up dialogue tags and any
  • You can intersperse talk with action or narration, or just let it flow
    • If there’s a secret to effective dialogue it’s in it moving so naturally that it draws the reader in while the story moves on quickly

Exercise Example – Micro Scenes

  • Write some short snippets using dialogue only, pure dialogue (no tags) if you can
    • They need be no more than 2 or 3 speeches long
  • Here is an example, without dialogue tags or superfluous description
“Simon, do you know what today is?”

“Should I, Amy?”

“It’s May 25th… Our anniversary.”

“But… That’s in July”

“No. The anniversary of when we first met.”
  • Here is the same example, but with some text in red that you might have written in at first, but could leave out
    • As you can see, most adds very little to the basic dialogue
“Simon, do you know what today is?” asked Amy.

“Should I?” he replied, looking up.

“It’s May 25th… Our anniversary.” she grumbled.

“But… That’s in July” he stammered, mystified.

“No. The anniversary of when we first met.” she explained.


Pick a line of dialogue and develop a short conversation by adding a responses
  • “What did she want?”

  • “After you,”

  • “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life!”

  • “Are we nearly there yet?”

  • “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen.”

  • “I’m sorry…”

  • “He’s looking at you now you know.”

    If you get stuck (or bored) use another conversation starter!

More Ideas

Some Free Tools for Writers

Admin User Tools & Tips lists some free “open source” tools to help authors be both creative and productive.

They include character creation & analysis, an outlining tool for creating your novel, a specialist screenwriting tool, and distraction free writing tools as well as other software for markup, as well as either desktop and professional publishing.

So if MS Word or LibreOffice are not your preferred environment check out their recommendations.

The Little Penguin

WotH Writers Writing

by Paul D.

Dressed in a puffa jacket that had seen better days the explorer watched the wildlife at the edge of the ice sheet.

A waddling mass of penguins formed a colony near the rock face, with birds squawking, flapping or swarming together in organised chaos of feathers and maturing chicks. Between the nesting area and the sea they trailed to and fro, some beaks fetching small fish or squid to feed chicks, some were taking small rocks or pebble as courtship gifts.

A little penguin waddling across the ice within the apparent chaos of the colony caught his eye.

This one had something special about it; its path or its gait, or the way that it seemed to pass on a slight diagonal to the directions that the main body of birds moved in.  Then he saw that it was meandering, following its own path, hopping up onto a small outcrop, or weaving in and out of a set of snow dunes and ice that were largely ignored by other webbed feet.

Standing aloof from most of the others, it seemed to catch his eye, the look of two common strangers in a strange land. The explorer smiled with pleasure at its own joy even before he realised that the bird was cutting a new path across that would intersect with him and his dwelling.

Standing still and hoping not to spook it, he watched his new friend cock its head as it stopped a few feet away. Hopping closer to his snow shelter, it dropped something from its beak before waddling off back on its own way.  He picked up the stone, a quartz that glinted pinkly in the midnight sun. Pressing it into the ice behind him, he felt it set off and finished the words that were pressed into his sparkly igloo.

© Paul D.

Extra Session

Admin User Event, News

But at 7:30pm on Thursday 7th, we’re having an extra (online) session to support some updates on the website and specifically to gather more for the tips section, we’d like to feature what you think really matters.

The Zoom Meeting Details

Here is the meeting link

So could you bring along your favourite quote and your favourite tip on writing?
With a brief explanation of what each of the two means to you. 
We can then use them on the website … with a link to you and your writing.

Alternatively, you could just send them to me by email … tho it’d be great to hear what you all have to say!

Look after yourselves, keep writing, talk soon

The next regular online meeting will be 7:30pm on May 15th … the writing cue for your 200 words is ‘gutter beatle’. Then Sue George is going to take us through what we can learn from her favourite author. Really looking forward it.


Absent Friends

WotH Writers Writing

by Alex Jones

To the sound of a couple of tea cups clinking: “To absent friends!”

“Indeed. How very thoughtful of you”

“It is so long since we last saw Toni, I just thought we’d reminisce”

“Good idea old chap”

“Do you remember when she used to play with us? She was so….”


“Yes. Delightful”

“So warm. So loving”

“Yes. Warm and loving”

“Oh how we used to enjoy our time together, sitting us all down for a lovely cup of tea, with her tins of baked beans. The loaf of bread. The plastic chairs. The table”

“Oh the table. The table”

“It’s such a shame she had to get all grown up”

“All grown up. All grown up, yes”

“Latest I heard she was gallavanting around the world as an air hostess. She’s way too old for the likes of us now teddie, isn’t she?”

“Way too old. Way too old”

“But wait. That sounds like footsteps coming up the stairs!”

“It’s her. It’s her!”

“She’s here everyone. She’s here everyone! She’s back home. Get ready for a tea party everyone!”

The door opens, to some very sad faces

“Not the bloody cleaner again!” said Ted. “I miss Toni. I so miss her….”

© Alex Jones, for Writers on the Heath

Just Deserts

WotH Writers Writing

by Sherree Cummings

He shifted, sliding the cardboard further under his buttocks, a bit of grit poking him in the backside. The ground was freezing. He blew on his fingers trying to warm them but they were stubbornly refusing to thaw out.

He had lost everything.  His home, his family, even the bloody flea ridden cat with its doses of worming tablets.

All gone.

If only he hadn’t taken it all for granted; been so greedy.

Now, looking back it had all been so perfect. Or was it? Had she noticed?

Playing around had seemed so much fun. ‘Variety is the spice of Life’ they say.  Spending money like there was no tomorrow, flashing the cash with his mistresses, leaving the wife to pick up after him. He… had…taken…it…all – for granted.

Now, as he looked up at the sky with its crisp, clear night-he- remembering cosy evenings at home.  Sitting round the fire eating crumpets with Brucie making them (all) laugh with his jutting out chin and comic retorts.  He recalled her last words to him as puce with rage she spat ‘I’ve had it, I’ve had enough! I’ve told you time and again, I’d let something go once, I’d let it go twice, but NEVER for a third time.’

‘It WAS your turn…to put the bloody bins out!’  **or ‘change the bloody litter tray’

He turned on his side. A sniffing stray dog cocked its leg and sprayed as furiously as the Trevi fountain.

© Sherree Cummings