What is a Dialogue?

It’s an essential aspect of every story and a key literary device. Dialogue can help us construct convincing people by conveying their backgrounds, motives, strengths and weaknesses, and feelings. Good language brings characters to life by revealing their trauma, prejudices, weakness, and strengths. Themselves. All the human qualities that make us love, loathe, and root for them.

Dialogue helps establish characters. A skilled writer uses conversation to advance a story’s narrative, climax, and conclusion. Dialogue can add emotion to situations, heighten character tension, or build anticipation before a plot twist.

Dialogue breaks up the action and details in your text to improve the flow and pacing. When written correctly, it helps bring readers deeper into the story, preserving John Gardner’s “vivid and continuous dream”

Dialogue enhances writing, but only if done well.

Beginning writers assume dialogue is easy to master. We use words to communicate every day, therefore it seems ludicrous. How hard can it be to make our characters interact naturally and advance the story?

It’s tough. Dialogue demands talent and an ear for genuine speech patterns, and even then, an editor will identify errors.

Even accomplished authors struggle with dialogue flow. In the early phases of creating a screenplay, novel, or short story, focusing on word choice and cadence is a distraction.

If your dialogue has no meaning, it’s useless.

What makes good dialogue? There are formulas for plotting, generating character arcs and backstories, and designing worlds and locations. Surely there’s a knack to crafting forward-focused interactions that bring stories and characters to life.

No magic formula exists. Plenty of practice and editing are part of the “secret.” However, you shouldn’t get in blindly. Knowing what makes conversation powerful will save you time while editing your first draft. 

guidelines and exercises for writing dialogues.

Learn your characters’ voices.

We speak differently. From our education levels to the communities we grew up in to our personalities, so many elements influence our speaking tempo, loudness, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Try eavesdropping when you’re in a busy place. You can do this exercise anywhere with chatter: a coffee shop, a crowded bar, your office break room, etc. Everyone has a distinctive manner of speaking, whether it’s an accent, a speech impairment, a tendency to accentuate vowels or consonants, etc. People have diverse styles. Your characters should draw and keep readers in your story.

After fieldwork, write down your results. Choose two contrasting characters . Let’s use a young prince in line for the throne and a serving girl attending a royal ball in disguise with her fairy godmother as examples. Both characters’ backgrounds are distinct. They have varied education levels. Different interests, fears, and goals. Maybe the girl grew up in a village where everyone lingers on vowels and most are uneducated. Maybe the prince was ignored as a child and became talkative when given attention.

Engage your characters’ backstories, personalities, and voices. 

Our prince, accustomed to public speaking and schooled by the kingdom’s greatest experts, may feel comfortable discussing literature and politics. His small conversation is flowing and full of lofty terms our server doesn’t comprehend. 

As the daughter of a stablemaster in a poor village, she doesn’t know anything about courtly affairs or astronomy. She’s embarrassed by her ignorance and afraid the prince will see through her disguise if she misspoke, so she initially avoids his queries. 

When he mentions horses, she lights up and has much to say. She interrupts the prince often with long, forceful statements. He suspects she’s no ordinary noble because of how she pronounces her vowels.

When your characters speak naturally, they feel real. When writing dialogue, it’s crucial to use your characters’ voices.

Remove distractions from the conversation and story.

Once you’ve composed a dialogue, edit it. Remove as many dialogue tags as feasible. Dialogue tags damage your work by slowing communication and focusing attention to the author, so use them sparingly. 

During editing, discover better ways to indicate who’s speaking. If you removed a conversation tag, would the reader know who was speaking? Yes? Kill the tag. If “no,” use gestures and body language to identify the speaker.

Body Language

Body language might indicate who is speaking. It can also assist improve your dialogue, especially when it contradicts your character.

A woman chuckles at her husband’s joke at a dinner party, yet her fingers curl under the table. On the eve of combat, troops in their bunker trade misadventure stories. One hardened private can’t stop bouncing his leg, while another bites his lip and digs at an old scar on his forearm. 

Nervous ticks, a shift in posture, and distinguishing mannerisms are a sort of language that work with what characters say to show their state of mind or set the scene’s tone. Using a character’s voice is important when writing a conversation, but it’s not everything. Use character movements to enhance interactions and advance the plot.

Realize conversation

King remarked, “Honesty is the cornerstone to successful discussion.” Be honest. Few people say what they think. Biased. Liars. Overstatement. We hide facts and manipulate the truth for many reasons. We tell things how we want them seen, not how they are.

Realistic conversation is vital to crafting effective, convincing dialogue in any story, no matter the aim. If it’s in character, let your character fumble through a lie or spin one with chilling ease. 

What characters don’t say can be as illuminating about their personalities and motivations as what they do. Your character may be reticent about his love life. Or she overuses large words to impress others. Your characters’ speech conveys vulnerabilities and tendencies that may affect how the plot unfolds.

First draft is everything, then refine.

Many experienced authors warn against drafting and editing simultaneously. It’s professional writing advice every aspiring writer should know. When writing your initial draft, focus on getting all of your ideas down. 

Everything you write will alter between your first draft and final copy. Dialogue should be written without overthinking at this stage.

If cadence is difficult, don’t overthink it. You should already know your characters’ voices and actions. Decide what your characters will say and why. You can edit their speech later.

Follow inspiration. Make your characters interact, whether it advances the plot or not. Even if it’s simply small talk, writing dialogue for your characters at this stage will help you create and refine their voices.

When revising, question every encounter.

Analyze every written discussion during editing. Do these lines advance the plot? Does it reveal characters’ pasts, motivations, or feelings? Are my characters reflected? Does it help set the scene’s mood? Cut dialogue that doesn’t do all of these. Anything less is clutter that distracts from your tale.

Mastering dialogue takes time. Don’t get dismayed if many of your characters’ interactions seem contrived or dead-end. Remember, the only way to get better is to practice, and the beauty of the drafting stage is that you may revise as much as you like until it feels right. Create a habit, a writing playlist, and keep going. Soon you’ll effortlessly write great dialogue.

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