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Writing Dialogue: A Comprehensive Guide for Authors

Hey there, readers! Ever felt that your characters’ conversations fall flat? Or maybe they sound more like robots than real people? You’re not alone. Crafting authentic dialogue is a challenge, but it’s also the secret sauce that can make your story unforgettable.

In this step-by-step guide, I will walk you through the art of crafting compelling dialogue that will captivate readers and leave them eagerly turning the pages of your story.

So let’s get straight into it! 😉

Tips for Writing Dialogue

Have you ever read a book that kept you so entertained that you couldn’t stop reading it? There are lots of elements that cause a story to be that way, but one of the most important is dialogue.

Dialogue isn’t just words on a page–it’s the stuff that brings your characters to life. Think about if you read a story without any dialogue. Wouldn’t that be boring? Without dialogue, there is very little interaction with other characters, and there is very little room for conflict.

To write compelling dialogue, you need to understand the key elements that make it effective. Here are some techniques you can use to write dialogue:

1. Make it Realistic

Good dialogue sounds natural and authentic. It reflects the way people actually speak, using contractions, interruptions, and colloquialisms when appropriate. Make your dialogue realistic, and it will be so much more relatable.

I would highly recommend listening in to other people’s conversations and noticing these certain things. If you’re writing a story in a different time period (or in a fantasy world that mimics a certain time period), watch well-written movies that are set during that time period and notice the way the characters speak. Write interesting phrases down as you watch, and notice certain expressions used repeatedly. Then apply it to the dialogue in your story!

2. Give the Conversation a Purpose

Each line of dialogue should serve a purpose. It should either reveal something about the character, advance the plot, or provide essential information to the reader.

In other words, don’t have entire scenes of dialogue where the characters are just small-talking. Unless the small talk has some sort of underlying purpose, you shouldn’t bore readers with anything that isn’t important to the story.

As Abbie Emmons says in her YouTube videos: “Why does it matter?” If it doesn’t matter to your characters, then it doesn’t matter to your readers, and your readers will lose interest. So when writing dialogue, ask yourself why this conversation matters, and give each and every line of dialogue a purpose.

3. Use Subtext

Subtext is the dialogue element that allows your readers to read between the lines. It adds depth and complexity to conversations, allowing readers to infer the true intentions of the characters without directly telling them.

Subtext uses the technique most writers have probably heard at some point: “Show, don’t tell”. Show the readers how your characters are feeling by their actions and their internal thoughts, not by them blurting out everything in a conversation. In real life, people don’t do that. We hold back a lot of thoughts, and we don’t say everything we’re thinking out loud. It should be the same with your characters, and your readers are smart enough to figure out some of what’s going on without the character saying it in dialogue.

4. Add Conflict

Conflict drives the story forward and adds tension to the dialogue. Characters with opposing goals or conflicting personalities can engage in heated discussions, creating scenes that your readers won’t want to miss. You can use dialogue to craft arguments, romantic tension, plot twists, jokes, and so on.

Use each characters’ unique voices, motivations, and personalities to craft their dialogue, and then give the scene conflict. Dialogue is one of the best ways you can have your characters interact; without it, there would be very little room for conflict and suspense.

5. Act Out Your Dialogue

One of the best ways to write good dialogue is to act it out! Get a friend or sibling and act out the dialogue together. Or act it out yourself in the mirror. Also, writing your scenes as screenplays can be super helpful and make your dialogue really come to life.

6. Use Individual Character Voices

Each character should have a distinct voice and way of speaking. Consider their background, personality, and motivations when writing dialogue. This will make your characters more relatable and memorable while giving them all a unique voice.

The goal should be to be able to tell your characters’ voices apart from each other with no context. So to test this out, take out all dialogue tags and descriptions, and just leave in the dialogue. Notice how similar it sounds, and see if it’s easy to tell the characters’ voices apart or not. You can even ask a close critique partner or friend (someone who knows your characters well) to play a guessing game of which character said what. Then, based on the response, you can work on giving your characters more individual voices that pop right out of the page.

7. Conduct Character Interviews

Conduct interviews with your characters to get to know them better. Ask them questions and write out their responses in dialogue form. This also really helps with getting to know your characters and giving them distinct voices. You can even use some of the things they say in your interview in the actual story! The possibilities are endless.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Writing Dialogue

While mastering dialogue is a skill that takes practice, be mindful of these common mistakes and avoid them when crafting your conversations:

1. Info-Dumping

Avoid using dialogue as a means to dump information on the reader. As I said when I made a point about subtext, “show, don’t tell”. Do NOT use dialogue to give your readers a full run-down of the character’s backstory, or the setting they’re in. This will make your story seem cheesy and unrealistic. Because do people ever do things like that in real life? Not very often. Instead of info-dumping, find creative ways to reveal information through subtext, action, or internal thought.

2. Overusing Dialects and Accents

Have you ever read a book where a character had an accent, and you literally could barely understand what they were saying because of all the misspellings and strange pronunciations? While dialects and accents can add authenticity to a character, be cautious not to overdo it.

Heavy accents or excessive use of dialects can be difficult to read and may distract from the content of the conversation. If all your reader is trying to do is understand the words the characters are saying the entire time, then eventually, they’ll get frustrated and put your book down.

3. Lack of Conflict

Dialogue should have tension and conflict to keep readers engaged. Avoid small-talk conversations where characters always agree on everything and never drive the plot forward. Conflict drives the story forward and creates opportunities for character development.

4. Unrealistic Speech Patterns

While dialogue should sound natural, avoid replicating every verbal tic or filler word people use in real life. (For example, the words “so”, “um”, “uh”, “like”, etc.) Trim unnecessary repetition and ensure your dialogue flows smoothly.

It’s important to make your dialogue realistic, but using as much jargon as us humans do in real life is just not necessary.

Let’s Get Writing!

Mastering the art of writing dialogue is a skill that every author should strive to develop. By understanding the elements of effective dialogue and practicing natural-sounding conversations, you can create scenes that captivate readers and bring your characters to life.

Remember, writing dialogue is an art, and like any art form, it requires patience, practice, and a willingness to experiment. Embrace the process, and let your characters speak for themselves. Happy writing!

Do you have any dialogue snippets from your story that you would like to share? What are your favorite dialogue techniques? Let me know in the comments section below!

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3 responses to “Writing Dialogue: A Comprehensive Guide for Authors”

  1. Lucy Avatar

    Love it

  2. Saraina Avatar

    Wow, Annabelle, this article is amazing!!! I love the idea of writing down interesting lines from well-written movies – I’ve definitely done that before. In fact, I think movies are my all-time favorite thing to draw inspiration from when it comes to dialogue! XD

    1. Annabelle Avatar

      Thank you! That’s awesome!