8 Tips for Awesome Dialogie

8 Tips for Awesome Dialogue

Dialogue is one of the most important and also one of the most difficult aspects of a story. That is because dialogue is such a common occurrence in readers’ lives. Just as badly done animation of people is creepy, badly written dialogue comes off as fake and vaguely menacing. There is nothing worse to read than a cliché-ridden, stilted, and obviously forced line of dialogue.

From the dime store novels of the past to Harlequin romances of today, you can find examples of bad dialogue everywhere. But what is good dialogue? How can you write it? What should you look for? What should you avoid? Here are some tips to make your dialogue writing successful: 

1. Listen to real people

The first thing a writer should do if they want to write realistic dialogue is to listen to real people talk. Listen on the bus, listen in line at the grocery store, listen to your coworkers talk. What do they talk about? How do they talk? They usually do not use whole sentences, they don’t use correct grammar, and many times they share in jokes. All these little things add up to more realistic dialogue than what you would write normally. Try to incorporate real speech patterns into your dialogue for the best effect. 

2. Avoid the info dump

No one blathers on for pages about the past or their history unless they have a really good reason. If your character is being interrogated, is a police officer filling in a report, or a doctor informing a patient of a diagnosis then an info dump is fine. Otherwise avoid it! Try to fill in the blanks some other, less obvious way. Think of it like this: if you were hired as anew employee, no one would sit you down and fill you in on all the office gossip. But you would eventually still learn about it. How? A little at a time. Let your readers have the same opportunity to piece together clues to get the whole picture. 

3. Use slang

Slang is a part of our everyday conversations. From common words like “cool” and “whatever” to more colloquial phrases like “shooting the bull” and “burying the hatchet,” slang is a frequent part of dialogue in real life and should be in realistically written works as well. Try not to go overboard or use slang so often that it becomes confusing, but a little slang and even some vulgarities can give us an indication of who the character is by how they speak. (Keep in mind that the more cuss words are used, typically the lower the education level of the character becomes.) 

4. Accent overkill

Accents should not be overused either. I have many times read a book where the accent of a character was so annoying I skipped over him whenever he spoke. Do not be that writer. Mention an accent and give some indications of the speech pattern, but do not let it overwhelm your dialogue. 

5. Make it clear who is talking

A pet peeve of mine is dialogue that switches between characters with little to no indication of who is saying what. Using “he” and “she” is all well and good if two characters of opposite genders are the only ones in the room. But if you have a large group, that is just not going to cut it. Even a small group can become confusing if not properly labeled. 

6. Watch your formatting

Another thing I find super annoying is improperly formatted dialogue. Each speaker’s dialogue should be given a separate paragraph.It’s simple! When I see lines and lines of many characters’ dialogue all bunched together in one big paragraph, that is one story that will go unread, no matter how good it is. 

7. If it is normal don’t say it

Even though you want to mimic real-life speech patterns,that does not mean your dialogue should be boring. If you have a bunch of people sitting around saying nothing, then don’t write it. You can say something like, “They waited and chatted,” without having to show the chatting. It is okay, I promise. 

8. If it’s weird, spell it out

“Alex confessed her love for Jim with a double haiku” is weird enough to writethe scene.When it comes to dialogue, less is usually more. Try to only write dialogue when characters have something to say or when it builds on the plot.People don’t talk as much as you might would think. Don’t make characters so verbosethat the reader losses track of the story.

Tell me your opinion: What is your greatest struggle in writing good dialogue? 

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About Ken Myers

Ken Myers is the founder of Longhorn Leads and has learned over the years the importance of focusing on what the customer is looking for and literally serving it to them. He doesn’t try to create a need,instead he tries to satisfy the existing demand for information on products and services.

Comments

  1. Dialogue is one of my greatest pet peeves. There is so much drivel that characters will say, even when a good author is writing them. In real life people don’t go around telling other people their deepest feelings, even if it’s someone they are very close to (as a general rule). Even the most talkative and open person generally just stays on harmless ‘surface’ subjects even if he thinks he is opening his whole life and thoughts up for everyone.
    But perhaps the very worst dialogue is romantic dialogue. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s possible to write a romance without the characters going completely out of character and laying on the purple prose with a shovel. Yes, people in love do flatter/compliment each other, and they do tend to be more mushy around each other, but not the way people write it 99% of the time. I can’t think of more than two or three instances of good romantic dialogue.
    So, anyways, all of that was to say that dialogue is one thing that I really try to focus on because I can always feel myself drifting towards the cliche or cheesy end if I’m not really careful. I was actually stuck in my novel a few days ago because I wanted my character to find out something, but the only way that I could see at the time was an awful, cliche, and out of character piece of dialogue. I finally figured out how to make it work without that, so it is possible :D
    Thanks for this article! (Oh, and I think I’m guilty of not putting dialogue in different paragraphs. Yikes.)

  2. Definitely identifying the speaker. I catch that easily when I do an evaluation, but in my own writing I often miss it.

    Lauren

  3. Avoiding info dump seems to be the most challenging one!

    Tell the World

  4. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Ken!

  5. I have trouble sometimes with dialogue where the speaker is not clearly identified. I get lost when a single speaker says two lines (each line having it’s own paragraph) and the author does not indicate that it is the same speaker.
    Thanks for these clear tips and helpful guidelines.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Sorry… typos ended up in my previous comment.

    #7 is my pet peeve. The boring everyday bits such as greetings and trivial pleasantries (“Hi. How are you?” “Fine, thanks. How about you?”) don’t move a story along, but sometimes it’s awkward trying to find useful dialogue when two characters meet. I’m finding many times it’s better to eliminate the meeting and just make reference to anything pertinent that came out of it.

  8. Great post from Ken. I always appreciate good tips on the proper use of dialog. I have several books on the subject but it helps to have a good recap.

    Thank you, Ken and Katie!

  9. Recently I found myself solving the problem of romantic dialogue by having the characters do one of two things: doing it facetiously, or saying almost nothing at all. Where, say, a typical Harlequin author would spin out reams of purple prose within quotation marks, I find myself writing looks and brief understandings instead, sometimes using no dialogue whatsoever. Two people intimate enough to finish each other’s sentences wouldn’t think of speaking to each other like an annoyingly wordy romance-novel couple; sometimes they don’t even need to speak at all, and that’s how I’m writing them.

  10. One more thing I forgot to put in the last post: most of my characters who speak stilted lines are villains, because it reflects their closed minds. The few others are minor characters whose heads I haven’t gotten into yet; I generally correct that in the edit stage.

  11. Very useful! Thanks for the indications!

    I think you can have more or less dialogue depending on your story, and what you´re trying to accoplish.

    Thanks for the post!

    M.

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