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5 Dialogue Writing Tips That "Every" Writer Should Know About
By Bethany Cadman on December 23, 2015
One of the biggest problems fiction writers face is when trying to write dialogue. Great dialogue is so important in writing, it brings characters to life, it drives the plot forward, and presents exciting information to the reader. It is used to express characters emotions, to vocalise their fears and desires, and allows the reader to understand who they are and what they want.
Unfortunately writing dialogue doesn’t come naturally to most writers, it is a skill that takes time and practice to master. The problem is, if we try to write dialogue exactly how we would speak it comes across terribly when read. All the pauses, intonation, and random subject changes that we happily accept when having a face to face conversation with someone, cannot be written verbatim in a story.
The good news is that writing great dialogue can be learnt. Here are 5 tips to get you started:
Use dialogue to bring depth to your characters
A lot can be conveyed through your characters speech. All of us have different ways of talking depending on what kind of mood we are in, what we are trying to say, and who we are speaking to. Translate this into your writing. Is your character angry, sad, excited, happy? Think about the language they would use to convey this. What kind of person are they? A straightforward, straight-talking person, or are they absent minded and forgetful? Are they concealing something from the person they are talking to? Are they intelligent, stupid, sarcastic or funny?
Think about the rhythm in which they might speak, slowly and purposefully, or perhaps quickly and out of breath. Do they mumble and stop and start, do they forget what they are saying? Do they ramble or are they very measured and collected when they speak? Giving your characters a way of talking that is consistent throughout will differentiate them from one another, and make them seem more believable and authentic to your reader.
2. Use everyday exchanges to help you find your voices
The best way to create great dialogue is to listen. Listen to the everyday conversations that happen all around you. Take part in different conversations with different people yourself and observe how they talk and react in certain situations. Sit on a bus, or in a bar and take notes of the conversations you hear, you will be surprised at how many different types there are. Taking notes and writing down anything that strikes you as unusual or interesting is great for using in your writing to enhance your characters and influence your story.
3. Avoid overuse of adverbs
The best writers of dialogue convey the emotions of the character within it. If you find yourself ending each speech with an adverb – ‘he said angrily’ ‘she sighed sadly’ ‘he joked excitedly’ then look back at what you have written and see if there is a way to convey this within the dialogue itself. If you have written the dialogue well then trust that your reader will pick up on what you have tried to get across rather then spelling it out for them. Littering your prose with adverbs makes for uncomfortable reading too. It can be very distracting and you run the risk of losing the attention of your reader.
If you want to be sure readers understand the emotion of the scene, why not use an action instead? For example, ‘she dug her nails into the palms of her hands as she spoke’. This is far more powerful and will keep the reader interested as well as giving them an image to work with, rather then pointing out to them exactly how the character feels.
4. The dreaded accents!
Everyone has some sort of accent, and if your characters are from a particular part of the world, you may wish to get that across in their dialect. This is fine, and in fact can be a fantastic way to enrich your characters and make them appeal to the reader. However if you overdo it it can completely destroy your dialogue. Readers don’t want to have to struggle to understand a character with an accent so thick you would have to keep asking them to repeat themselves if you were having a face to face conversation. Use an accent sparingly, you can still get it across without making your prose confused and silly.
5. Keep it short and sweet
Small talk is not necessary. Use dialogue to create drama, and to advance the story. We don’t need to hear everything a character might say to another, i.e. all the normal pleasantries you might hear in an everyday conversation. You dialogue should be interesting and full of energy.
Keep dialogue, where possible, to a couple of sentences at a time. Any more than this and you run the risk of using the dialogue to convey information that a person would never believably say in an authentic conversation. Remember the most important thing is that your reader believes this is a conversation the characters could have, if they have to work hard to believe it, it will become tedious to read.
Remember, the best way to create strong dialogue is to practice it. Writers have to be disciplined creatures and setting some time in your writing schedule to practice writing dialogue or amending and improving dialogue you have already written is by far the best way to to achieve this. Read your dialogue out loud and if it doesn’t sound right, then re-write it again and again until it does!