Today I want to discuss dialogue. When following the Show Don’t Tell rule, dialogue is the backbone for our scenes and our story. Good dialogue should further the story, keep readers interested and engaged, reveal more about the characters, and be genuine and believable. So what do we need to keep in mind when we write dialogue? Read on.

Avoid info dumps. Do not have characters discuss things they already know. This is a cheap trick and comes across badly to readers. Condense your information and keep dialogue realistically short. People paraphrase in real life to prevent boredom, so keep this in mind when you’re writing. Include backstory only if it furthers the plot of the current story. Readers don’t need to know everything you do as a writer to write well. Finally, don’t rely on dialogue to give readers information.

Keep writing believable. In real life people interrupt each other and have unfinished thoughts, especially during arguments or different emotional states. Don’t shy away from things that make your dialogue more genuine. Don’t rely on long monologues, but when you do need one, vary your sentence length and structure to keep it from getting droll. And even though people use these in real life all the time, eliminate umms, yeas, and repetitive phrases that make dialogue stilted and boring. Make sure your dialogue matches the mood and tension for the scene. Should it be an argument or a clandestine conversation? Also, further the theme of your story and your subplots with subtext to reveal more about your characters and your story. Subtext is just as important as the actual dialogue in what it conveys. And each character should sound different. Good dialogue happens when each character has a unique voice and dialogue can be correctly attributed to the right character by the reader without being told who is talking. We should recognize who’s talking without being told.

Omit dialogue tags when not needed for clarity. Dialogue tags are the “he said” and “she asked” tags at the end of dialogue that attribute who was talking. These can be tedious if used after every bit of dialogue, so you should avoid overusing them and only use them to establish who is talking and when it’s unclear who is saying what. Some say that said is dead, but using tags other than said or asked can be extremely jarring to readers. Articulated, grumbled, recalled, etc. remove readers from the story and remind them they are reading. There is a time and place for everything and everything is fine in moderation, but you do not need to replace said with a colorful tag every time. Said is unobtrusive and does a great job. Unless it’s a middle grade book where colorful tags are more standard.

Now let’s discuss some general tips for writing dialogue. Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural? Does it flow and have a good rhythm to it? Eavesdrop on other people’s conversation and take notes if you’re wondering how to craft good conversations. Make sure your dialogue is still comprehensible when writing in accents or using diction, you do not need to spell things out phonetically. And show, don’t tell! Convey emotions with your word choice. And avoid too much slang terminology since it really does date your work and quickly. And do not just have a wall of dialogue. Add in what the characters are doing while talking and their body language. It will tell a lot.

Dialogue can be tricky but it is a skill that all writers need to develop. If you’re struggling with writing dialogue, you can read a few plays which rely completely on dialogue to advance the action of their stories. Practice writing a scene only using dialogue. And listen to the way other people talk around you. Do you struggle with writing dialogue? What tips do you have for it? Comment below and happy writing!


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