Dialogue, the art of crafting conversations that service the plot, the characters, and the overall story in a way that propels the narrative forward. For some, dialogue comes naturally. But for many, myself included, crafting organic sounding dialogue can be quite the challenge. Today, I wanted to share some of my own tips for writing dialogue.
Avoid Exposition: This is probably the number one needed edit that many writers run into. Picture this: as you’re writing along, you notice a piece of exposition that’s weighing down the narrative in the body paragraphs. So, you move the exposition to the dialogue, because you think that once it’s in quotation marks, it’ll transform the exposition from telling into showing instead. However, exposition in dialogue is still that: exposition. Avoid telling information and information dumping in your dialogue as much as possible. Instead of having a character list off all the exposition, find ways to truly show it instead. Perhaps through giving a character body language or showing us some of their internal thoughts in the prose, or even having the character bring their own spin on the information they’re sharing. But avoid placing the expositional information in the dialogue, as it can make a character sound wooden or stiff and create a flatter narrative overall.
Set Vocabulary Rules: Whether you’re using modern lingo, or if you want to go for a more abstract pool of terms and vocabulary, make sure to establish clear rules and boundaries for your dialogue and keep those rules consistent across the board for all your characters. If a character breaks the rules by using vocab or dialogue outside of these rules, have other characters address or acknowledge that fact. You goal is language consistency, because that sets up your world and your story’s culture overall.
Pay Attention to Intel: Keep close track of which characters know what information, when they learned it, how they learned it, and who else knows that this character knows this info. Keeping track of key plot points and story developments from the perspectives of the characters will help you immensely both with your dialogue, and with avoiding plot holes.
Incorporate Agency: Give your characters a sense of free will as they communicate to one another. Ask yourself, would a character give this information away? Why or why not? How would they react? And what would drive them to up the drama and tension within this conversation even more?
Maintain Character Awareness: If someone says something out of character or out of left field, have another character address that. If a character acts like a hypocrite, have another character call them out on it. Create a sense of push and pull, with character’s awareness of each another being at the center of it all.
Distinguish Dialogue: Write your dialogue in such a way that you can clearly tell who is saying what without dialogue tags. You can do this through focusing on speech patterns, choosing distinctive reactions for each character, and creating a solid character profile that makes each character’s dialogue unique.
Don’t Avoid Tags: I know, this sounds like the opposite of the previous point, but it’s very important to not avoid using dialogue tags. For a reader, even the most well-written dialogue can become incredibly confusing if there isn’t enough direction as to who is saying what. Using just a few extra “He said” or “She asked” can help to direct your dialogue and to keep the pacing flowing forward.
Read Out Loud: The best test for natural, organic dialogue is to read it out loud. Whether you read it like a play, or read it with a friend, speaking each part aloud can help you to identify if a section of dialogue sounds right and natural.
These are just some tips I use as reference as I edit and work on dialogue. What about for you? What are some tips you like incorporating as you craft your own dialogue?