Writing Tips: Dialogue

Hello, happy Sunday, and welcome to my post on writing dialogue! As someone who has struggled with writing dialogue over the years (especially funny dialogue) I'm here to bring you some tips that I've learned from my own writing.

1. Make sure your dialogue has a purpose. That purpose can be:

  • showing the speaker's personality

  • creating conflict

  • revealing a secret that will further the plot

  • making the reader learn more about your character

  • etc.

Dialogue in books and movies is supposed to sound "natural" and "realistic," but it shouldn't sound too much like real life. After all, in real life we often have boring conversations that don't add anything to a story.

For example, try not to write dialogue like this:

"Hello," he said.

"Hi," I said.

"Did you pick up the toothpaste?" he asked.

"Yes, I just bought it on sale," I said.

This is boring dialogue that adds nothing to the story. Unless the main conflict of the story is that the characters are struggling with their dental hygiene, why do we care that they just bought toothpaste? Unless buying toothpaste on sale is a big part of the plot or character's personality, these little mundane things don't matter to the reader.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Perhaps a big part of dialogue is not just what is said, but what isn't being said. Maybe the characters are talking about toothpaste to avoid talking about something else. In that case, you could flesh out the above passage.

"Hello," he said. I couldn't believe he was talking to me like nothing had happened, but I bit my tongue.

"Hi," I said, dumping my grocery bags on the table.

"Did you pick up the toothpaste?" he asked. Really? He was going to ask me about toothpaste?

Maybe I would tell an obvious lie, just to see if he caught on. "Yes, I just bought it on sale," I said. The local Save on Goods never had anything on sale, which was why we hated going there.

2. Vary your dialogue format.

There are several types of dialogue tags.

  1. "She said," "he asked," "I exclaimed," etc. are all examples of dialogue tags. They describe how the speaker is saying something and who is saying it.

  2. You could also insert an action before or after a full sentence of dialogue. For example:

"All we have is chocolate ice cream." She slammed the freezer shut.

3. Leave your dialogue by itself. This will be easy to understand if there are only two speakers and can be used for quick back-and-forth. For example:

"You love me."

"I hate you."

"Do not."

"Do too."

I personally am partial to the second form of dialogue formatting, but you should vary all of these and can use them to set different moods. The sparse dialogue formatting of the last one will allow the reader to focus on what your speakers are saying, and not get distracted by any tags. However, dialogue that is easy to read can have a good mix of all three. For example:

"You never do the dishes," she accused.

He sighed. "I just did them last night."

"Really?" She opened the dishwasher. "Then why is the dishwasher full of dirty dishes?"

"I don't know."

3. Speak your dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural.

While you want your dialogue to serve a purpose, you also want to make sure it sounds like something a person would actually say.

That's all I have for today! I hope this was helpful, and leave a comment down below if you have any other tips.

Happy writing!

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