Tips on Writing Dialogue

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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