Some readers dread encountering dialogue. They’ve been exposed to really bad dialogue in the past and they just don’t want to be hurt again.
Some readers love dialogue. They feel like it helps them understand the characters better, get a grasp of the plot, and feel the action of the narrative as it begins to unfold.
Dialogue can be interesting. It can make a story look more attractive. It can also be very easy to get wrong and cause a reader a lot of hurt and pain. Knowing how to write dialogue in a book that is effective means avoiding these common mistakes.
#1. Avoid being too formal.
Real people do not talk in proper grammar. You’ll also have the pickiest of readers expect formal grammar in dialogue, but most people want characters that are realistic. “I ain’t gonna go do that, uh-uh.” That’s a realistic statement. “I will not go do that. There is no way.” Maybe an English teacher might say something that way, but not the average person.
Characters will offer clues to their personality and role in the story based on how they speak. If they speak with perfect prose, then the character will feel pretentious. Listen to how people speak and you’ll rarely hear perfect prose, so it shouldn’t be in your dialogue.
#2. No one speaks in long speeches.
One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make when it comes to dialogue is length. You’re not trying to replicate the speech from Independence Day at the end of the movie with every conversation. Most dialogue is a sentence or two. Then another character offers a sentence or two. There’s a lot of back and forth going on.
This means long, complicated, compound sentences should be avoided most of the time. If you’re wondering if your dialogue is a little long, try recording your written dialogue with someone and then listen to it. If you feel awkward hearing it, then you know it’s time to make some changes.
#3. Trying to be creative with dialogue tags.
When you’re writing a long novel, you’ll see that the dialogue you write often has a lot of “he said” or “she said” moments in there. These dialogue tags can feel repetitive when you’re writing them, so an idea forms.
I should start varying my dialogue tags.
That causes the “he said” to become “he offered” or “he opined.”
Most readers are not going to look at your reader tags unless they stand out in some way. You can repeat “he said” 200 times and it won’t be noticed, but if you offer “he opined” 5 times in a novel, it will stand out. Keep it as basic as possible for best results.”
#4. The character names are used WAY too often.
“Hi George. How are you today?”
“Hi Mia. I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m good, George. It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”“It sure is, Mia.”
People just don’t talk this way. If you’re in a conversation with someone you know well, do you even use their name at all? Probably not that often.
Which means this type of dialogue feels stilted. Artificial. Some readers might even feel like the author doesn’t trust them to be able to distinguish between the characters, so they get insulted and stop reading.
Add an extra dialogue tag if the conversation is confusing. This will help you avoid an awkward conversation.
#5. An overuse of adverbs.
“Today is going to be great,” George said excitedly.
“I agree,” Mia said hesitantly.
“Why did you hesitate?” George wondered loudly.
It can be difficult to show readers what is going on through dialogue. This is why adverbs are often used as part of the dialogue tags. It feels like an easy way to give the reader a connection to the feelings which are going on.
Except it doesn’t. Not one bit.
Adverbs should only very rarely be used – if at all – in this way. It is better to show the reader some thoughts or actions to get the point across.
George smiled. “Today is going to be great!”
Mia nodded her head, but didn’t answer right away. “I agree.”
George looked at her curiously. “Why did you hesitate?”
Actions provide a better flow. Adjectives are the awkward social interactions with strangers you hope to avoid when you go grocery shopping.
Knowing how to write dialogue in a book is a skill that can be perfected. As long as every character finds their own voice and these mistakes are avoided, you can create meaningful dialogue that readers will enjoy.