It’s disheartening to read books with intriguing concepts and plots but bad or incomprehensible conversation. It may be discouraging, no matter how much you wanted to keep going.
Writing a good dialogue is an essential skill for any writer, as dialogue can reveal your characters’ personalities, emotions, relationships, and conflicts. Dialogue can also move the plot forward, create tension, and add humor or drama to your story. However, writing dialogue can also be challenging, as you need to make it sound natural, realistic, and engaging. Here are some guidelines to help you create effective dialogue:
Make it sound natural: Dialogue should mimic real-life conversation while being more polished and focused. Avoid overly formal or stilted language unless it suits the character or situation. Pay attention to the rhythm, flow, and cadence of spoken language. For example: “Hey, how’s it going? Long time no see!” This dialogue reflects a casual and familiar tone, mimicking a typical greeting between friends.
Show, don’t tell: Dialogue is an opportunity to reveal information and develop characters. Instead of directly stating something, let characters express themselves through their words, actions, and reactions. Allow subtext and nonverbal cues to add depth and complexity to the conversation. For example: Sarah clenched her fists. “I can’t believe you lied to me!” Instead of directly stating that Sarah is angry, her clenched fists and accusation show her emotions without explicitly mentioning them.
Keep it concise: Trim unnecessary words and avoid long-winded speeches. Real conversations often have interruptions, incomplete thoughts, and pauses. Select the most essential lines to maintain a brisk pace and hold the reader’s interest. For example: “I’m sorry, but I can’t go with you,” Lisa replied. This dialogue is concise and clear, conveying Lisa’s regret without unnecessary information.
Use realistic tags and attributions: Dialogue tags like “said” or “asked” are generally sufficient and less obtrusive. Avoid excessive adverbs like “he exclaimed loudly” or “she whispered softly” unless they add significant meaning. Instead, use strong verbs and context to convey tone and emotion. For example: He flashed his badge at the guard. “John Smith, homicide. Let me through.” Instead of using an adverb like “urgently”, the action of flashing the badge indicates the character’s urgency without explicitly stating it.
Vary speech patterns and vocabulary: Characters should have distinct voices and ways of expressing themselves. Consider their background, education, personality, and any relevant factors that influence their speech. Vary the sentence structure, vocabulary, and level of formality to reflect these differences. For example: “Dude, that’s totally awesome! I can’t wait to try it out!” exclaimed Mark. The use of informal language and enthusiastic exclamations reflect Mark’s energetic personality.
Include subtext and conflict: Dialogue becomes more engaging when it carries an underlying tension or conflict. Characters may have hidden agendas, conflicting goals, or unresolved issues. Subtextual cues and unspoken tensions can create depth and intrigue. For example: “I guess we’ll never really know, will we?” she said, her eyes narrowing. The dialogue implies there’s an unresolved conflict or hidden tension without explicitly stating the details.
Use dialogue to advance the plot: Dialogue should serve a purpose beyond mere conversation. It should reveal information, drive the story forward, or develop relationships. Avoid excessive small talk unless it serves a specific purpose, such as establishing character dynamics or setting the mood. For example: “I found the secret passage behind the bookshelf,” he whispered, excitement creeping into his voice. The dialogue reveals important information that propels the plot forward, introducing a secret passage.
Consider pacing and balance: Balance dialogue with narrative descriptions and action. A constant stream of dialogue can become overwhelming, so intersperse it with scenes, reactions, and introspection to create a well-paced narrative. For example: “Let’s go to the park,” Alex suggested, eager to enjoy the sunny day. They all agreed and headed out, laughter filling the air. The dialogue is interspersed with action and descriptions to create a well-paced scene.
Read it aloud: Reading dialogue aloud helps you identify awkward phrasing, unnatural rhythms, or lines that sound off. This exercise can improve the overall flow and authenticity of the conversation. For example: “I love you,” she whispered softly, her voice trembling with emotion. Reading this line aloud helps to ensure that the soft and trembling quality of the dialogue comes across effectively.
Edit and revise: Dialogue often benefits from multiple rounds of editing. Review your dialogue for clarity, consistency, and relevance. Cut any redundant or unnecessary lines. Ensure that each line serves a purpose and contributes to the overall story.
Remember, these guidelines are not rigid and may be adjusted to suit your narrative style and genre. Ultimately, the goal is to create dialogue that engages readers, enhances characterization, and propels the story forward.
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