Writing dialogue can be a daunting task for most writers. Dialogue is an art form that requires careful attention to detail, and many authors struggle with getting their characters’ voices right. But don’t worry! This blog post will show you how to write dialogue like the pros do.
We’ll start by looking at some common rules on how to write dialogue. Next we will step back and look at what makes realistic dialogue, how that moves the story forward, how to make readers pay attention when dialogue shows, and exactly what ratio of dialogue writing to you should use in your story.
19 fast dialogue rules to building great dialogue
- Use dialogue to reveal traits of a person
- Dialogue should be natural and believable. This is their real life, so they should have their own voice.
- Write dialogue in the style of your genre
- Avoid clichés when writing conversation, such as “I’m so mad!” or “How could you?”
- Be careful about how much dialogue is on the page – too much can make it seem like a screenplay rather than a novel
- Watch out for adverbs that modify verbs in dialogue (e.g., he said angrily) – they’re usually not necessary and can often create clunky sentences
- Dialogue should sound like people actually speak – it can be hard to avoid clichés
- Use contractions when writing dialogue
- If there’s too much dialogue, try splitting the book into two or more parts or adding descriptive narration
- Dialogue tags are necessary in some cases; they show who is speaking (he said) but shouldn’t be overused (he said breathlessly, he asked loudly). Adverbs like these can make dialogue feel overly formal and unnatural
- Set up your dialogue in advance by making an outline if possible
- Dialogue punctuation doesn’t need to always match the rest of the sentence (e.g., question marks for questions, suspension points for unfinished thoughts) but it should be correct
- Avoid writing dialogue that consists of only one person speaking for an extended period of time
- If you use em dashes to indicate fragmented speech, put the sentence in parentheses first so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of dialogue – e.g., “I can’t help feeling (can we talk about this later?)”
- Keep dialogue short so readers won’t lose interest – no need to include details like gestures, eye rolling, etc.; save those for the descriptive passages between dialogue exchanges
- Don’t forget that body language can often be more effective than words; gestures and facial expressions are natural ways of showing people’s feelings without actually saying anything at all!
- Be careful with dialects/accents in dialogue; make sure they’re correct and sound natural
- Dialogue is one of the best ways to demonstrate conflict in a book, but don’t weigh down with people bickering back and forth for too long
- Don’t forget that dialogue isn’t just used for getting information across – it’s also a great way to build suspense!
How to write natural dialogue?
Dialogue is one of the best ways to show personality and voice in a story, so it’s important to get to know the people you’re writing about. The way a person speaks can say more about them than what they’re saying, so pay attention to how they talk. How do they sound? What kind of words do they use? How formal or informal is their speech pattern? Do they have an accent? These things should all be considered when constructing dialogue for your characters.
In addition to this, there are a few other rules that need to be followed when writing dialogue:
- Dialogue must sound natural and believable – not too formal or too informal
- Dialogue must be easily distinguishable – for this, some writers use tags to establish who’s speaking and punctuate accordingly
- Dialogue should serve a purpose/contribute to the story line
- Speech patterns and dialects need to be consistent with personalities (e.g., if they’re from Canada vs. New York)
- Avoid clichés when writing conversation (e.g., “I’m so mad!” or “How could you?”)
- Use contractions in dialogue whenever possible; mix up your dialogue tags; remember that actions can often convey feelings better than words! (see examples)
- “he said” and “she said” not necessary if there is no confusion or if they are unnecessary (like in a letter, where there is no one to respond)
- Avoid writing dialogue that consists of only one person talking for long periods of time without any interruption from the other characters. It’s generally considered bad form and can seem unrealistic. If you have an important conversation that needs to go on for a while, use descriptive narration as well as dialogue.
What is the most important thing to remember when creating dialogue?
The writer must think about what has recently happened in their character’s lives. Dialogue needs to be believable and natural, so it can’t just consist of one person talking for an extended period of time without interruption from the other characters. The way a character speaks tells you more about them than anything else–what kind of words they use, how formal or informal their speech pattern is, etc.–so take note! If someone’s had a bad day at work, don’t expect them to sound like they’re having the best day ever. And if your protagonist is angry at someone who wronged her in some way–say he cheated on her with his ex-girlfriend–it would make sense for this to be a topic of conversation!
Some people might be driven to write about character change because they feel like they’ve experienced a lot of change in their own lives and want to explore this on the page. Others might be interested in exploring the different ways that characters can grow and change over time. And still others might be drawn to writing about character change because it’s a great way to create suspense and tension in a story. Whatever the reason, writers often find themselves drawn to exploring character growth and transformation in their stories.
In what way is it important to establish character and voice in a story first on the page?
Before you can even begin to think about how characters change on the page, you first need to establish who they are. This means understanding their individual personalities, quirks, interests, and voices. You don’t want your protagonist’s best friend to sound exactly like your protagonist! Make sure that each of your characters has a unique style of speaking by paying attention not only to what they say but also how they say it (what kinds of words do they use? Do they have an accent?) Also remember that some people talk more formally than others; some always use contractions; and still others might be more imp than thoughtful with their words.
What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to writing dialogue?
The biggest mistake is that many writers don’t realize that every character’s voice should be unique; this means that his or her speech patterns shouldn’t sound exactly like those of another character in the story. For example, if your protagonist uses a lot of profanity and frequently exclaims “I’m so mad!” you shouldn’t have all of your other characters swear and shout! This can cause confusion for readers. Take time with each individual character to familiarize yourself with their voices and mannerisms, and then try writing out some conversations between them. See what happens: does their dialogue sound natural and believable? Or does it all start sounding the same after a while?
What is the most effective way to write dialogue?
The best way to write natural-sounding dialogue is to make sure you know who your characters are before writing them on the page. Spend time getting to know their likes and dislikes, their hobbies and interests, what they like and dislike about each other, etc. Also take some time with each individual character’s voice; don’t expect your best friend in real life to talk exactly like your mom! And remember that good dialogue doesn’t only consist of conversation; it also consists of descriptive narration (background information and details). Remember: you can always add more description later if needed!
What is a common mistake regarding point of view when writing fiction? How do you avoid making this mistake? The biggest mistake writers make when it comes to point-of-view is using too many points of view in one scene. This causes confusion for readers and can get confusing fast. If you’re writing something particularly complicated, this could be okay–but only if the situation warrants it! Otherwise, stick to just two or three points of view per scene. Readers don’t need to know what every single person in the scene is thinking at any given moment; they’ll only lose interest quickly if you try to tell them all of this information at once. Instead, allow each character’s own unique voice to guide the narration on the page (remember: no one uses exactly the same words or phrases all of the time!) while allowing their thoughts and emotions to emerge slowly through dialogue.
How do I write a dialogue that engages my reader?
Readers are engaged with your writing when they are curious about your characters and what they will do. When examining why two characters are interacting, it’s important to consider what both parties want from the exchange. Often, one character will want something from the other that he or she can’t or doesn’t want to provide. In these cases, a power struggle often ensues as each character tries to get what he or she wants. This dynamic can be fascinating to explore in fiction, and it can also be a great way to reveal important backstory and development about both characters involved. For example, if your protagonist is trying to get information from a rival, ask yourself what the rival wants in return. What might he or she be willing to do to get what he or she wants? How far is your protagonist willing to go in order to get what he or she wants? What are the stakes of the exchange, and what might happen if one character doesn’t get what he or she wants?
Building great relationships between characters is often about exploring their similarities. But it’s also important to look at how your characters are different from each other. What makes them unique? How do they feel misunderstood by others, and how do they interpret or misunderstand each other in return? These dynamics can be explored through dialogue (two characters trying to understand one another) as well as through actions (two characters who continually misinterpret each other). Consider the dynamic of an ex-husband and his ex-wife–they’ve moved on with new loves, but they still have children together. Perhaps these two characters constantly butt heads when they have to coordinate family events, out of a fear that there might be tension between themselves and their new partners. Or perhaps they’re able to establish a genuine friendship, despite the fact that their own relationship failed. Think about all the possible outcomes!
Another way you can build dynamic relationships between characters is through your authorial voice. Are you writing from one character’s point of view or are you allowing an omniscient narrator to reveal information about all of the main characters in the scene? Are you placing details in the narration that allow readers to see characters’ intentions or motivations? If so, how are these details expressed? Remember: using this type of detail in action–not just via dialogue–can give other characters more personality and establish how they’re perceived by others. And as you’re doing all of this, it’s important to consider whether you’ll be using direct or indirect dialogue, and why each style makes sense for the given scene.
Discovering these nuances can be difficult at first, but much like learning a new language, one of the best ways to learn is practice and experience! If you read and write often, you’ll discover that your instincts become stronger over time; soon enough, your point-of-view procedure will become second nature.
Using dialogue tags that bring your characters to life
A dialogue tag is a word or short phrase that indicates who is saying something. For example: “I’m going with you,” she insisted.
In general, use “said” as your preferred dialogue tag. It’s the easiest and most clear-cut choice. If you’re trying to convey a certain emotion with your dialogue tag (“she said cryptically”), then be sure it doesn’t interfere with the readability of the sentence—for example, don’t write something like “she murmured fervently.” You want to avoid sentences that are too wordy, so try to edit them down as much as possible while still keeping a natural flow. Keep in mind that some people use “said” as a dialogue tag so much that it becomes clear the intention was to avoid using it. People may squint at your sentence and wonder who’s talking instead of just reading along easily!
There are, however, other options for dialogue tags if you’re looking for something more specific. These include:
- “whispered” or “hissed” (if writing about werewolves)
- “breathed”, “gasped”, or “panted” (for those who are being physically hurt) -“shouted”, “squeaked”, or “huffed” (for angry individuals)
- “argued”, “lamented”, or “pleaded” (for emotional, strong points of view)
- “spat”, “gasped”, or “gritted” (for angry, violent people)
- “gestured” (if it’s important to use your hands when talking)
These words and phrases work well in dialogue because they add something extra than just saying what someone says. You can use them in any tense or voice that you want. When adding a tag to your sentence, be sure not to put the tags at the end of the sentence–that makes it awkward! In general, it’s best to keep one tag per speech bubble/section of the panel if you’re writing for comics since too many tags will make it confusing to the eye. For prose, you can stick with one tag per paragraph. And if you want to be really bold and creative (and use a lot of tags), you can even go for two tags per sentence!
What should be the ratio of dialogue in a story?
The ratio of dialogue to description should be like 2:1 or 1:1. That is, two times as much dialogue as description. The dialogue should be strong and the description should not take away from it. If a line of dialogue is particularly compelling or interesting, try repeating it as a first or last line in a scene. Readers will anticipate these lines and pay closer attention to them!
Dialogue is important because it moves the story quickly. Description, on the other hand, can slow down the story by taking away from the dialogue. This is why it’s important to switch between dialogue and description to help with pacing. You can use simple language to describe what’s happening in a scene. For example, you could say “A field of flowers stretched out before her” instead of writing “The soft breeze blew pollen across the meadow.” The same goes for using adverbs in dialogue tags—they aren’t necessary!
If you want your story to be exciting or funny, then load it with dialogue. If you’re trying to create a mood, then focus on description. Dialogue is great because it gives characters something to do besides stand around and wait for something bad to happen. It shows that they are proactive figures who are making things happen in their world. This way, when the bad guy comes along, your characters will have more energy since they’ve been doing something instead of just sitting around.
How long should each section of dialogue be?
Your average line of dialogue shouldn’t go for more than three to five words. Dialogue that goes on for too long is hard to read quickly and can confuse readers as they try to figure out what’s going on in the scene. Of course, if you’re writing a certain type of story or genre where it’s normal to have people talk for longer stretches, then you don’t have to worry about keeping your dialogue this short—but if you’re writing a novel with a lot of characters talking at once, make sure not to swamp the reader with too much!
If a character is angry, their lines should be shorter. This way, there isn’t too much dialogue that goes on at once. The reader can focus on one person speaking and not be swamped by all the other words in the scene. What if I want characters to talk for a really long time?
If you’re writing a chatty character or someone who talks a lot, then you don’t have to worry about shortening their lines of dialogue. However, if you want them to say something particularly important and poignant, try repeating it as a tag instead: “She paused,” said Sally. “And then she continued,” added Sally. This way, the reader will pay more attention to that line when they read it back because it’s been repeated twice! It won’t slow down your story because there isn’t too much dialogue on the page.
The best thing about writing things down is that you can always cross stuff out if it doesn’t work. So the next time you write your story, don’t be afraid to start with a very long line of dialogue and then keep rewriting it until it’s just right! It’ll take some experimenting, but in the end, you’ll have lines of natural-sounding dialogue that will help progress your story in wonderful ways.
It’s absolutely okay to write one really long line of dialogue! Our fictional people can say very interesting things in order to convey their personality or hide their motives. If you notice that readers tend to skip over these longer blocks of text (because they’re reading too quickly), try breaking them up into two lines. This will make the dialogue easier to read, and it’ll keep our people from seeming like they’re taking forever to say something!
What if my character says the same thing over and over again?
If your character is prone to saying specific things (I love you or You idiot), then it’s best not to write their lines over and over again in different ways. Instead, try putting them into conversation with another person. The character can talk about how much they hate someone else or think bad things about them—anything that adds conflict to the scene! Readers will notice this kind of dialogue because there are so many people speaking at once. If you find yourself repeating a line too often, try rewording it slightly so it doesn’t seem like you’re stuck in a pattern.
Dialogue is a powerful tool that can reveal your traits and make for an interesting story. In fact, the way you write dialogue will determine how readers feel about your character or what they think of them. Make sure that you’re not repeating lines over and over, rely on tags to indicate important or powerful dialogue, and remember to keep it short! Remember, too, that longer blocks of text are okay—all it takes is a few revisions before your story is perfect.
Want to learn more about building dialog? Take a look at this video: