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? 

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland's monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.
Email:
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 😀
    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.

  12. everyone speaks with an accent.

  13. I keep reading a lot about subtext. I revised a chapter where the two main characters first meet. I tried to apply what you said in here. How does this look?

    Merryn dragged her feet, and zigzagging as she staggered up the inn stairs. She flopped onto the bed, pulled off her all her armor, struggled with the confounded top piece, and threw it onto the floor. It felt so comfortable just wearing her shirt that she wiggled under the covers and fell asleep.

    The skin between her shoulder blades split open. She howled. Trembling as a wet creeper passed out of the wound. Blood streamed down her back as it moved. It wormed up over her shoulders to her neck inching upward. It was starting again. She thought she’d imagined it, before. The dark god had tricked her, had ticked them all. Oh gods, oh gods. Make it stop.

    A rolling laughter resounded in her head. Just one god. Me.

    If her skin could crawl off her and run away it would. This had to be a trick! Stretching her hand back further she brushed against a few leaves. She jerked at the vines, they popped out. The roots clung to bits of her flesh. Still holding the vine in her hand, Merryn tossed it across the room, where, it wriggled about in the moonlight. She screamed a scream of no reason, where chaos was the norm and darkness lapped at the corners of her mind.

    ###

    She opened her eyes, blinking them, her vision coming back to them. As she became more aware of her surroundings, she recoiled away from an unfamiliar touch.

    She eyed him for a moment before speaking, “Just who are you?”

    “Do you have any idea what that thing was?” He pointed to a mass of green vines, mashed to a pulp.

    She moaned and as she rubbed her temples. “No, I don’t.” It was hard to avoid being upset by it, lack of sleep didn’t help things either.

    He walked over to the fireplace and leaned against the mantel. “The blasted vine had been crawling towards the door when I came in here. You might want to consider sleeping elsewhere.”

    There was no elsewhere, it went where she went, but he didn’t need to know about that. She re-positioned her body, sitting upright. “It’s gone now, there’s no need.” As the fog of pain lifted, she realized he never answered her first question. An assassin?

    Reaching down as if to scratch an itch on her leg, without warning, she pulled out a small dark dagger from her boot.

    Within a hair’s-split moment she moved facing him. The dagger point drew a fine line of blood below his Adam’s apple.

    His hand twitched. Impressive, most were frightened of her speed.

    Speaking in a low clear voice, “Don’t.” She pushed the dagger in deeper. “Are you working for the king’s guards?”

    He snorted at her, “Without me, you’d be rotting six feet under.”

    After a time, she lowered the dagger from his neck. “This is true. I thank you for helping, but just go.

    He turned towards her at the doorway, as if he wanted to say something but stopped. With that, he left the room.

    ###

    Waking up the next morning she pulled her armor on quick and rushed out the door. She smacked right into someone, her forehead knocked back. Ouch, what a hard head.

    She opened her eyes, “Well, good to see you again. But -”

    “Slow down, what’s your hurry?” He rubbed his temple, while his brow furled.

    She lunged towards the stairwell.

    He grabbed her forearm before she reached the first step. He wrenched her arm back and fourth, afraid to use her full strength lest she broke his arm. Stupid human.

    “Let go now.” She stared him down unflinching.

    “I only wish to help. No more arguments, I’m coming with you. As a Paladin I’m honor bound to protect those in need.” And he pulled her closer.

    No mere human treated her this way, the arrogance of the man! She wrenched her arm free and trying to control her self, as she didn’t want to alert any guards she shoved him back from her. Her natural Elven strength was half that of a full-bloods, but she still need to be careful of the fragile humans.

    He slid back way from her and bumped into the end of the hallway wall. He opened his mouth, and closed it several times. The only thing keeping her from killing the man was her need to remain unnoticed.

    Turning around, she walked back down to the lobby and bought assorted supplies, filling up her backpack, as stealing anything would grant unwanted attention.

    An hour later she found him leaning against a tree, near the town’s back exit. She stopped, spun around and speed walked to the front entrance. Her mouth dry and her hands of frost. Dang it why was he over there? Was he following her? Ordinarily she’d have disposed of him but too much was at stake for her to deal with the problem a dead body.

    It took another hour of pushing past the citizens, avoiding annoying merchants, and stepping over scampering pups, but she managed to make it out to the woods just past the front gate. It was night as her night vision activated, everything now had sharp gray lines highlighting them in the darkness. This was when she wished to be a full blood, as they could see full detail and color.

    Scanning off ahead and towards the left was an area where there was grove of trees. Was that a shack in the middle of it? A while later she reached it and stepped over to it, she knocked on the door several times. No reply. She pushed it open.

    Spider webs adhered to her hands. She batted them away, the light sensation irritated her.

    She stepped Inside the shack. Hum, it’s empty—everything inside had rotted. Camping may be a better option. As the shack looked like it’s liable to fall down any moment. Behind the shack stood a large pine tree. Merryn sat down, and started scraping at the ground, clearing away the pine needles, to uncover the bare dirt underneath them. Another lonely night, it was better this way. Whether she liked it or not death followed close behind and always had his way.

    ###

    Merryn rotated the Fool Bird that she had skewered on a spit. The fire crackled from a drop of the rich fat, causing the flames to hiss. She stood up and turned around trying to find a clear area between the trees. The sun was quite low in the southern sky. The more hostile creatures would be out soon.

    She snuffed out the fire, pulled her pack over a shoulder and went behind the shack. Whoever was following her had kept their face hidden, but she was sure someone was here now as the forest became silent. It seemed not even a Harper-beetle dared wax its tune.

    She hated to waste her energy on another spell, so peaked around the side of the shack.

    Four curved and pointed legs step out of the shadows. As it continued forward, the shadows parted from its middle a white furry body where the legs attached. It emerged skittering. Its head appeared next with a pink nose wiggling up and down, sniffing the air. The creature eyes were a vile arachnid eyes, they gleamed in the moonlight. Its ears are long and fluffy like those of a rabbit and reached about four feet high. It inched closer to where she had sat moments before, it’s fangs dripped poison onto the ground.

    She had to get out of here now, only a fool messed with them. She padded away intending on waiting until she reached the edge of the forest before speeding up.

    As she hunched low and worked her way down a hill, a man wearing a silver breastplate appeared on horseback. She cursed every god she knew along with the ones she had only heard in passing. She eased down on her stomach praying he hadn’t seen her, crawled back up the hill looked around for a way to escape.

    “Hello! Mis? I know you saw me, I want to talk to you.”

    Ya right. She held back a snort. What an old trick. Hum, there seemed an area that was much darker off to the right of the shack, but had to be at least sixty feet away. She thought about jumping into the tress. No too noisy. She tucked back a lock of hair that hung in front of her eyes.

    Peaking at the creature again, it had disappeared? She looked up and swallowed. It had gone up into the tree and had wrapped the branches close to it with webbing, hiding all but the tips of its legs.

    She went over to the left saying low, slid down and fell. Dangling there she waited for her heartbeat to slow, before working her way back up. There was no choice she hoped she would be fast enough with out the spell. She ran full tilt under the huge tree, something scratched the top of her shoulder and stung. Without looking back she pushed forward and leapt head first into the dark area.

    She squeezed her eyes shut half expecting to smack into a tree. Instead, her shoulders were caught inside of a hole. Rolling them back and fourth until the compact dirt crumbed, she pulled an arm free and worked on enlarging the hole until she could crawl inside. She turned around and backed into a tight corner hunched over.

    “Where did you go? Co—” The man yowled. A thud. The forest was silent again.

    She rubbed her forehead with two fingers and swore at the gods for this wretched day. It was stupid, she knew it was stupid, but she popped her head out. Too many trees blocked her view from here. She went over to the tree. The houses out line was a flat was a bloodless husk. Her mind screamed at her to run. She gripped a dagger tight and focused on her breaths.

    She looked up and from side to side where was the spider-nab? Another step and she saw the online of the man. Bending over him she squinted focusing her vision. While no color came she could see him in a little more detail. He didn’t look eaten. She put her hands on his shoulders, and shook him a little. “Get up now!”

    He groaned, his eyes flickered open and then rolled back in his head.

    “Hey get up now!” She smacked his cheek. No response.

    A hissing behind her.

    Turning around a branch whacked her in an eye. She rubbed at it while straining to see what made the noise. She blinked clearing her vision. Nothing was there. She did a quick search of the area. The hissing started again. She hopped back and looked around. The shadows. No, that’s just silly. Enough of this. She went back to the man and shook his shoulders.

    “Get up.” She made herself face him as a tickling sensation moved up her back.

    He groaned, and rubbed his jaw.

    “Now!” She yanked at the idiots arm hard and pulled him up into a seated position.

    “Ouch! Lady, ease off.” He shook his head and stood up. “Hey–”

    “Shhh! Let’s get out of here before it comes back.” She tugged on his arm with less force this time. She reached behind her back pretending to scratch an ich. Nothing was there, I need more sleep.

    She led the stumbling human out of the woods, with the town from before ahead of him.

    “Quit following me human.” She turned and went back towards the forest.

    “I have a name you know.”

    Should just keep walking. She muttered this under her breath. “Yes, and what is it?”

    The man straightened. “Parcival.” His chin tilted up a little. “And, yours?”

    “Merryn.”

    He paused. He looked at her as if expecting something.

    Now what? She put a hand on her hip and gave him the eye. That just-what-in-the-royal-hells-do-you-want look. Most people cleared out under that stare. Not this one he was like a blob of tree sap stuck on your dagger handle, just couldn’t shake him off.

    He bowed with his head tilted and a flamboyant flick of his hands. He looked up while doing so his eyes had a glint to them. “I will bother you no longer this day.” Then turned and went back to the town.

    After he was out of sight she relaxed. The further away she distanced her self from him the better. And headed around the the forest as that spider-nab had to be somewhere in there and she didn’t want to tangle with it again. Someone, needs to put up a sign: Blood sucking Monster! Stay out! In big red letters. Hea. And, scanned ahead for a suitable camping area.

    Apologies for such a long posting, I’m just eager to learn more. ^o^

  14. Am I explaining to much in her thoughts?

  15. Whoops missed a passive sentence and messed up an it’s vs its sorry.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the confines of a story, a character can do only three things: he can think, he can talk, and he can move. Out of the three, the first two lend themselves most gracefully to written […]

Speak Your Mind

*