19 Ways to Write Better Dialogue
For years, I struggled deeply with the dialogue in my stories. I didn’t have a natural knack for writing conversations that felt real and true to character, and I let this weakness deter me from striving to improve. But stories need dialogue, and my own was suffering for a lack of attention.
Finally, I decided that enough was enough. I began reading every bit of advice on writing dialogue that I could get my hands on. I studied the novels I read, and I rewrote the conversations in my stories again and again, until at last I began to see improvement.
Unfortunately, it’s this very complexity that can make quality dialogue so difficult to craft. That’s why I’m breaking down nineteen steps for writing better dialogue in today’s article, beginning with ten tips for crafting richer, more nuanced conversations.
#18: Use dialogue to break up narrative
Narrative that spans page after page can become taxing to read, no matter how theoretically exciting it might be. Adding a line or two of dialogue can be a great way to give readers’ eyes a break, especially if you allow your point-of-view character to engage with or react to the world around them.
In my experience, the easiest way to determine whether your characters’ conversations ring true is to read your work aloud. Do your characters sound like themselves? Does their conversation follow a natural flow? If it doesn’t, reading their words aloud is sure to reveal where you went wrong.
Feeling overwhelmed by all the advice I’ve shared today? Don’t feel you need to master dialogue overnight. Practice is key to improving skill, and perfecting any part of your manuscript requires a healthy dose of revision. Focus on implementing just one or two of these dialogue tips at a time, and you’ll be writing rich and compelling conversations in no time.
How To Write Dialogue (With Examples)
Writers use various tools like monologues, dialogues and narration to tell stories that appeal to their audiences. Dialogue is one of the most important tools for written and scripted works with more than one character. You may be interested in learning more about dialogue if your job involves writing a novel, short story or script to share with an audience. In this article, we discuss why dialogue is important in written works and how to write dialogue that engages your audience, plus examples to help you write quality conversations.
Dialogue refers to written conversations between characters in novels, short stories and scripts. For dialogue to occur, two or more characters must talk with one another to further a story. Actors for commercials, movies and television shows use written dialogue to perform their characters. This makes dialogue useful for leisure activities like reading, informational training videos or marketing materials.
Why use dialogue?
As a writer, you can use dialogue to create engaging, informative written pieces that help your audience understand your message or topic and feel more connected to your characters. You may choose to include dialogue to break up long pieces of narration and add diversity to a written work. Dialogue is one of many writing tools you can use to balance your writing and create an environment that encourages your audience to keep reading, watching or listening. There are many goals you can accomplish when using dialogue, including:
1. Determine the reason for the dialogue
It’s often helpful to first determine why you’re adding dialogue to a piece of writing. Think about whether the dialogue enhances the story by developing character relationships or backgrounds, advancing the action of the plot or revealing information to your audience. You may place your dialogue strategically throughout your piece to ensure an even flow from narration, action and character voice. Remember to only include dialogue if necessary and avoid dialogue that adds little to your written work.
2. Decide which characters are speaking
There must be at least two characters having a conversation for a dialogue to exist. Understanding the goal of the conversation can help you decide which characters are speaking, what they’re saying and why they’re saying it. Once you’ve decided the characters in your dialogue, remember to think about their voice and how they might deliver information with their personality and style of speech. To keep your audience’s attention, try to add only a few characters to a conversation to improve readability and make it clear which character is speaking.
3. Use quotation marks to start and end spoken dialogue
Quotation marks are the standard punctuation for communicating written dialogue in novels and short stories. If you’re writing one of these pieces, use quotation marks at the start and end of a character’s speech to set their dialogue apart from the rest of the text. Using quotation marks effectively improves the clarity of a written piece by separating a character’s speech from the narrative text and helping a reader keep their place in your story.
4. Create a new paragraph for each speaker
Every time a different character speaks, it’s important to start and indent a new paragraph. This helps you and your readers understand who is speaking and makes your story or script look more visually appealing and easy to read. Separating each character’s speech may avoid confusion about what each character is saying, which can be useful in stories with characters who have conflicting values, roles or levels of information.
5. Write the dialogue
Within your quotation marks, you can write the dialogue between your characters. Consider the reason you’re adding it to your story and which characters are speaking the words as you write. Since dialogue is a conversation, the style in which your write it may sound different than the narrative parts of your story or script. Adjust your style based on the setting, characters’ personalities and your goal. For example, if your goal is to show two characters meeting for the first time, their conversation may be more formal than if they had been friends for a long time.
6. Start with the action
It’s a good idea to give every piece of dialogue a purpose, and starting with the action or most important information of a conversation is an excellent way of achieving that purpose. Although real conversations may have small talk and filler words, dialogue conversations must often be more straightforward and direct for audiences to easily grasp their meaning and your intention. To accomplish this, keep your dialogue concise and include only the information that moves your story forward, strengthens connections between characters or offers new knowledge to readers.
7. Use dialogue tags to show who’s speaking
Dialogue tags are brief descriptions of who is speaking a piece of dialogue. These tags can come before or after the quotation marks of a character’s speech and often include the name or pronoun of the speaking character and a verb describing that they spoke. You can use dialogue tags in many ways to increase the readability of your work and show readers which character is speaking. One way to add visual diversity to your piece is including dialogue broken up by dialogue tags, which can increase suspense and reader interest.
8. Include action beats
Action beats are one way to enrich your dialogue by adding narrative descriptions of a character’s movements and emotions. This can help readers better understand your dialogue, the setting of the conversation and how the characters feel. You can add action beats in dialogue tags, before or after dialogue and in the middle of dialogue to break up long conversations and make characters feel more real.
Dialogue Writing Made Easier
Knowing how to write dialogue in a story can be a bit of a challenge, especially knowing how to write dialogue that’s impactful and not just filler. However, as long as you make sure that each dialogue attempts to do something, whether it be progressing the plot or developing a character, writing dialogue becomes a bit easier.
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