Writing Dialogue

In most stories, characters are going to interact with each other through dialogue. I see a lot of starting authors that make mistakes when writing it. Let’s look at some tips on writing dialogue!

Dialogue can set the mood of the scene, transfer important information between characters, convey different information to the reader, and change the relationship of the characters. These are only a few uses for dialogue, I’m sure you could find many more.

However, badly executed dialogue can also ruin the whole scene, distancing the reader from the characters.

 

Keep it short

In real life, dialogue is convoluted – people interrupt each other, sentences end up not completed, group conversations are even worse. In stories, this should be, in my opinion, limited. Keep your dialogue as tight as possible. Characters should say also as little as is needed to convey their message while keeping their distinct voices (we’ll get to that later). For example:

“Do you want anything to eat?” Jaime asked.
“I’m not sure, I kinda-” Lily started.
“I’m in the mood for some Chinese.”
“Hey, you ordering some food?” Bob now entered the room.
“Guys, I said I’m not hungry.”
“You didn’t say that!”
“Yeah, cause you interrupted me!”
“Sorry. I’m still hungry, though.”
“Let’s just order takeout, I can eat it by myself, if you’re not hungry,” Bob concluded.

I think we can all agree that that was chaotic. It would be less realistic, but much more reader-friendly to write:

“Do you want anything to eat?” Jaime asked.
“I’m not sure. I don’t really feel hungry,” Lily said.
“I’m hungry though. Let’s order takeout,” Bob concluded, as he walked into the room.

 

Which brings me to my next tip.

 

Dialogue is not always the best option

Often, conversations are best summarized in a sentence or two. Generally, you should use dialogue sparingly, only to convey important information, while developing and/or establishing the characters speaking.

The previous example about takeout could be wholly summarized by writing:

After a minute of fighting, we agreed to order takeout.

I think this skips over the conversation rightfully. Rember that some conversations do not need to be explicitly showed. Most small talk should actually be excluded if it doesn’t add to the story. It can sometimes do that, of course – for example, soldiers before a huge battle might not be able to talk about anything other than random, seemingly unimportant things; this, if written correctly, increases the heft of the situation.

 

Remember formatting

A kind of “rookie mistake” that is not that common nowadays, but when I see it, it really ruins the whole piece, is when the writer doesn’t have the correct formatting. Mainly, start a new line for each change of speaker. I contacted the writer Debbi Voisey and this was one of the main tips she gave me for writing dialogue (thanks for the help, Debbi! Be sure to check her website MyWayByMoonlight).

Also, be sure to pick either ‘ or ” and stick with it. I usually tend to use “, because I’m used to it.

One last tip when it comes to formatting: if you continue a direct speech line directly, don’t put a period after the last word. For example:

“I love you,” Tom said.

However, you can put a question mark or an exclamation mark there.

If you follow up the line with an action not describing the speaking itself, put a period there.

“I love you.”

Helenna now entered the room.

 

Characterization

This tip is one I still struggle with when writing, but be sure to try and distinguish characters during dialogue. We all speak a bit differently and your characters should, too.

 

Here are some more writing articles!

Have I forgotten about any other important tip for writing dialogue? Do you have a great section you’ve written? Post it to the comments, let’s create a feedback/sharing place for our writing!

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