Want to make sure that your characters’ dialogues make sense in your story? Are you receiving feedback saying that the dialogue is either awkward or unrealistic? Well, you’re not alone.
All writers want to make dialogue more realistic and believable. With countless books and websites on writing fiction, chances are you’ll come across a section dedicated to dialogue. However, we’ll give you a run-through on dialogue, with seven easy tips that you can use as a quick reference guide.
- Don’t Use Dialogue For Exposition
“Many readers find exposition dumping annoying,” says Francis Acosta, creative writer at Study demic and Writing populist. “Sure, they want to learn about the characters and situations, but they don’t want to be bored to tears with a character spewing out exposition like it’s nothing. Your characters will only be wooden and robotic, and your story too transparent.”
Some common examples of exposition dumping in dialogue are:
- Characters saying things like: “As you know, [character name] is doing [this], because of [what happened prior to when this dialogue took place] …”
- Characters giving readers far more information than necessary.
“Your best bet is to not overexplain something,” adds Acosta. “Only use exposition in dialogue if it benefits the character, not the reader.”
- Read Aloud
This is how you can spot mistakes very quickly, when you read through your dialogue. If something doesn’t sound right, or if it sounds very long-winded, fix it.
Expert writers use a breath unit, which tells them the number of syllables a reader must read aloud in one breath. Normally, readers take breaths at punctuation marks. Therefore, try to stick to twenty syllables or fewer per breath. Keep in mind that long segments will have your reader lose his/her place, and short ones can be too choppy. So, vary the lengths using good judgment.
- Learn How People Actually Speak
When observing how people speak, consider location, era, and culture. These are how you define your character.
Next, look through diaries, interviews, or YouTube videos of people with a similar background. As you listen with a tape recorder, or keep tabs in a journal, study people’s vocabulary, and the way they string words together. Avoid dialogue that is scripted, because most of the time, they’re edited. In this case, unedited speech will suffice.
- Write Dialogue That Best Fits The Mood
Would you write happy dialogue in a dark, somber setting, or angry speech in a joyous scene? No. In that case, you need to write dialogue that fits well with the situation at hand. Writing dialogue that doesn’t fit the mood will have your story come off as disingenuous.
- Learn From Plays And Screenplays
Screenwriters write dialogue as a means to convey tone, conflict, and backstory through the dialogue. Reading plays and screenplays will help you learn how dialogue is written in a story. But be sure to read good scripts – award-winning ones, with diverse writers and casts.
- Let Dialogue Feel Lifelike, Not Just Lifelike
Ever wanted to feel someone’s words? Ever wanted dialogue to really speak to you to where it leaves an impact? Well, good news: it’s possible!
The secret is that dialogue can feel lifelike without all the clutter and repetition. By removing the odds and ends, you’ll have details stand out, and emotions felt by the audience.
- Don’t Overuse “Said”
“The word ‘said’ is always a pet peeve for writers,” says Oscar Koerner, editor at Academized and Grammarix. “You’ll always read ‘he said’ and ‘she said,’ but too often, we neglect to understand how that person speaks. Writing doesn’t show you how a person speaks, or how they’re feeling saying it; so, that has to be built into the dialogue.”
Two common mistakes many writers make with identifiers are:
- Overusing the word “said”
- Trying to replace “said” with a more bizarre identifier
“Overusing ‘said’ can grow monotonous,” adds Koerner, “so, try to replace it whenever you can. Also, try to look at how the person is feeling as they say what they have to say. Maybe they’re angry, so use words like ‘grumbled’ or ‘spat.’ Or maybe they’re happy, so try something like ‘cheered’ or ‘boasted.’ However, make sure that the replacements make sense, or you’ll risk confusing your readers.”
Writing dialogue may seem challenging at first. But with good practice, and by following these seven easy writing tips, you’ll write great dialogue that not only makes sense, but can actually reach out to readers.
Molly Crockett writes for Boomessays and Australian help, and she tutors for Studentwritingservices.com. As a marketing writer, where she shares her unique lifestyle tips and personal development advice with her audience.