One of the most important scenes in any story is the dialogue characters have with one another. We have conversations with one another every day in a variety of ways. Each conversation is intended to bring a forth a certain outcome. This is the attitude writers must bring to their dialogue. These dialogue writing tips will help you create something that feels realistic, contributes to the depth of your story, and will connect readers to your characters.
#1. People do not speak perfectly.
Just think back to the last conversation you had with someone. How many times do you think you put in an “uh” or an “um” into your words? Or did you insert some common words that didn’t need to be there? “I was, like, vacuuming the floor and, you know, there was that toy, uh – it was in the way.” Put in stumbles, restarts, and common word additions to create something that is emotional and realistic.
#2. Read your dialogue out loud when you’ve finished it.
Dialogue is meant to be heard. People are going to “hear” the voices of your characters in their head. By reading what you’ve written out loud, you’ll be able to determine if the movement and flow of your words written are appropriate to the voice of each character.
#3. Exposition is not meant to be within dialogue.
When you’re creating a conversation for your characters, the goal isn’t to give every specific detail that might be going on. You don’t need to have your characters talk about how tired they are from the lack of sleep they got the night before while they’re sitting at a police station awaiting the daily assignments. Each moment should add depth to the story, but sometimes you can have too much depth.
#4. Your dialogue doesn’t have to be 100% like real life.
Although you want to make your dialogue be as realistic as possible, you don’t have to include the uncomfortable moments of life in each conversation. Many people like to start a dialogue with some small talk. “Hello? How are you?” or “Can you believe the weather we’re having?” or “How about those [insert local sports team]?” This stuff can be cut out of your dialogue almost all the time.
#5. You don’t have to be literal with your dialogue either.
Think about how people say “I love you,” to one another today. Some people just say those three words directly. Others might say, “Do you really need to go to work today?” Sometimes people express their love for another by washing the dishes or doing the laundry. Think about your character and how they’ve developed for the reader. If it seems uncomfortable to directly say through dialogue what needs to be said, consider using alternative communication methods to convey the same point.
#6. Punctuation – don’t ignore it.
The right words in your dialogue must be complemented by the correct punctuation. Remember that punctuation doesn’t just occur at the end of a sentence. There are commas, hyphens, and other structural components that can really help make your dialogue feel real. And try to limit the use of exclamation points in dialogue unless you’ve got characters in an emotional fight. The average conversation doesn’t have people shouting at one another.
#7. Who said it?
There are a lot of “he said” or “she said” moments when writing dialogue. Sometimes they don’t need to be there because the reader can know who is saying what words. Some writers try to change it up to avoid reputation by using words like “he pondered” or “she exclaimed” and that’s fine as long as it doesn’t happen all the time.
#8. Let there be disagreements.
No one agrees with everyone else all of the time. People sometimes say surprising things, like “If you vote for a Democrat, I’ll never speak to you again in my entire life.” If people agree with each other in every circumstance and there aren’t surprising or contrary moments in your dialogue, then eventually it will just fall flat.
#9. Silence is sometimes golden.
Sometimes the most powerful components of dialogue aren’t what is said, but what is left unsaid. Silence can be very powerful. It creates worry. It causes reflection. Sometimes good friends can be comfortable in silence. Let there be moments like this in your dialogue.
These dialogue writing tips are designed to help you create a realistic conversation between your characters that reflects the mood and tone of your writing. Incorporate them today and you may discover that your characters have a lot more to say.