How to Write Dialogue

There are two parts to good storytelling: dialogue and exposition. One without the other is bland and uninspiring. There’s little to relate to and your writing starts to sound like an info dump or a string of purply dialogue. But by gluing them together you can learn how to write dialogue and create an atmosphere surrounding your characters.

Dialogue serves to break up the monotony of exposition. Page after page of action and description—otherwise known as exposition—gets tiresome to read. Your eyes start to gloss over the text and it becomes difficult to remember what’s happening because it all seems to run together.

Dialogue keeps your reader engaged or re-engages your reader if they’ve become a bit bored.

Bored readers are a death sentence for author careers. Bored readers don’t become raving fans and they don’t continue to read your books. That’s why dialogue is part of the formula for a persuasive and engaging story.

2-Step Guide to How to Write Dialogue

Cut your dialogue to the quick.

We might talk in complete sentences and add purple dialogue, but that doesn’t mean we should include it in our stories. Most writers include unnecessary tidbits or needlessly elongate sentences in an attempt to pad their word count or because they’re trying to replicate real speech.

“What are you doing this weekend?” he said. “Do you want to do something?”

“What are you doing this Friday?”

“You shouldn’t do that unless you want to get in trouble.”

Hey, Sally, wWho do you like more, Nick or Tommy?”

“So, um, what about that, uh, thing in the basement?”

Each of these exemplifies—in very simple terms—ways you can strengthen your prose by cutting unnecessary dialogue. We don’t often include people’s names when we’re talking and, while there are certain mouth sounds that come out while we’re talking—uh, ah, um—they are completely useless in story dialogue.

If you’re using them for a specific scene or passage, then the rule can be broken, but they shouldn’t pepper your manuscript. Cut your dialogue to its core components—what you really need to get across to your reader—and start there.

It’s important to remember that writing dialogue, or the dialogue between your characters, isn’t about replicating a real conversation. It should flow, obviously, but it should be cleaner and more concise.

Determine what’s actually important and distill the conversation from there.

Instead of over-writing dialogue, add backstory and description.

If you’re feeling the need to over-explain within the dialogue tags, consider cutting your sentence short and adding the rest with some quick backstory. Instead of adding a mouthful for your characters to say, layer your dialogue with relevant backstory to keep your readers engaged and deversify sentence types.

Dialogue helps push your story forward, and it should teach your characters and reader a thing or two.

“What are you doing this weekend?” Avery said.
“Nothing,” Tyler replied.
“Do you want to do something?”

The dialogue above seems a bit bland and boring, doesn’t it? It’s a simple exchange, but it doesn’t have to be so forgettable. There is little emotion between the characters. They’re like caricatures in their own conversation. Try this instead:

“What are you doing this weekend?” Avery asked, hope he would want to do something with her. They hadn’t hung out since the Summer Bash, but that was two months ago and the butterflies in her stomach had yet to still.

“Nothing,” Tyler replied. Sunlight shone through the windows across the hall and lit up his honeycomb-colored hair. It reminded her of the way the sun glistened on the water. She would never forget that summer kiss.

Avery waited for him to say something, but his attention was on the chemistry book he pulled out of his locker, not on her.

“Do you want to do something?” She waited with a tight smile for an answer. Tyler stopped and put the book down. Slowly, his eyes turned towards her.

“Sure,” he said, with a bright smile.

This is obviously a quick example, but by peppering your dialogue with character backstory and descriptions, you’re adding complexity to the scene. You’re giving the reader something to latch on to, something to relate to, and that’s what great storytelling is all about.

Short conversations are okay sometimes, but when you start having page after page of lackluster dialogue, it becomes a bit pointless. Dialogue helps drive the story. It helps your reader learn who your characters are and how they react to different situations.

How do I know if my dialogue is okay?

Find a trusted friend or critique partner and exchange manuscripts. The best way to go about it is to sit down with someone and read it aloud. If it sounds like the conversation flowers naturally, then it’s probably good. If it doesn’t, then you should consider reassessing.

Learning how to write dialogue isn’t as scary as it might seem. With this 2-step dialogue guide, you can write complex and intriguing dialogue between your characters every time.

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