Writing dialogue is an important tool to add to your writing arsenal. Dialogue gives your characters a voice, can help immerse your reader in the story and develop rapport with your characters. However, poor dialogue can be jarring and frustrating. It could even see your reader put your book down and not finish reading it. So it is important to know how to write great dialogue that improves and enriches your novel.
What dialogue should do.
Dialogue moves the story forward.
Dialogue can move your plot forward in a more direct manner then having a narrator explain it. It is harder to read a whole paragraph from a narrators’ point of view, then to have dialogue communicate the same things in a few simple lines of conversation.
Dialogue can speed things along and help build suspense, tension or any other emotion. It puts your reader into the middle of a conversation and pulls them in closer to the action so they feel a part of it all.
Dialogue helps develop your characters.
Characters can evolve through dialogue, and by making your reader a participant in their conversations you provide valuable insight into how they think, feel and react.
Dialogue is a great tool to help depict your characters and how they relate to each other. The way a character speaks and their tone can provide a lot of information about the person they are. The way characters speak to each other can also reveal what kind of relationship they have and how they get along. This helps your reader to feel like they really know your characters.
Dialogue provides realism.
Dialogue shows what is happening in your novel, as opposed to telling your reader. You can portray a scene more vividly through your characters’ dialogue. It engages your readers, as there are no lengthy explanations or descriptions by the narrator.
Dialogue provides vital information.
Effective dialogue provides information about character relationships, personalities, moods, feelings and reactions.
Dialogue should also provide specific information about your plot and drive it forward. It is important to remember that most conversations in the real world often have no point to them, but dialogue in your novel is different. It must serve a purpose and enrich your novel, not make it boring! When writing dialogue, question its purpose. If it doesn’t add anything to your characters or story, then delete it.
Dialogue should have action to accompany it.
Watch people around you have conversations. It is not often they will sit perfectly still and talk to each other. Often, they will be drinking a coffee, eating, cooking dinner, or walking etcetera. The point is people will usually be doing something whilst talking, so make sure you incorporate this into your dialogue when writing a scene.
Break dialogue up.
Do you ever watch a crowd of spectators at the tennis? Their heads going left, right, left, right. By writing continuous dialogue, one line after another, your reader can feel like they are at a tennis match. This is certainly not ideal.
The simple solution is to pause the conversation and take a few sentences to interrupt that pinging back and forth dialogue. You can use this pause to insert some interior monologue, describe the actions of your character, or the setting of the scene.
Dialogue should be concise.
To write good dialogue you should be concise and to the point. It isn’t realistic, as everyday conversations in the real world we have a lot of fluff in our dialogue. However, your readers do not want to be reading a lot of empty words. They want action and emotion. Writing short dialogue sentences will make the conversations between your characters more realistic and drive the story forward.
An important tip to note is that you shouldn’t write dialogue in complete, grammatical sentences. This is not how people generally speak in their conversations.
“Do you want to go and get a cup of coffee?” – a complete sentence.
“Want to grab a cup of coffee?” – how people are more likely to speak.
All your characters should sound different.
Just like all your characters have unique personalities, so to should the way the talk and think when conversing. Their tone, vocabulary, voice, accent and knowledge should all be consistent with their personality and character description.
I mean, if a 5-year-old child suddenly started talking like a 60-year-old highly educated professor of physics it wouldn’t fit in with their personality or character. Be consistent, and use dialogue to build your character further.
Revise your dialogue.
Reading your writing aloud is always an effective way to edit your work, but especially so for dialogue. When you read your dialogue out loud you will get a sense of how the conversation flows and if it ticks all the boxes for great dialogue. You will hear your character’s voice and whether or not it is consistent with their personality.
Other forms of “dialogue”.
Do not be afraid to branch out into other forms of communication between your characters. In today’s age writing text messages or emails is commonplace, and can be classed as dialogue.
Just be sure that it has a purpose, and are not just empty words trying to fill space.
I hope you have found this post helpful in writing great dialogue for your novel. It is an invaluable tool that will serve to enrich and develop your story. If you have any other tips around writing dialogue I would love to hear them!