Writing Advice: How to Write Dialogue

1. Don’t Waste Your Reader’s Time

Dialogue is one of the most important elements to writing a story. Conversation between your characters can make or break a scene. Dialogue should never be to clunky or long-winded. Every line of dialogue needs to be presented with purpose. It needs to further your story or develop your characters. 

Don’t write scenes that lead to nowhere. Dialogue that dead ends without supporting your character’s attitudes or your plot alienates your reader. It is perfectly acceptable to write stupid shit so long as it goes with the tone of your story, but make sure it has a purpose. 

2. Keep Everyone in Character

Dialogue is often where writers tend to do most of their exposition and world explaining in order to avoid pesky info dumps in the narrative. Dialogue is there to support you and push you through to the next part of the story. 

However, any world explaining and exposition you have your characters spouting needs to be relevant to their whole “deal”. 

Don’t have someone randomly start talking about a part of your story you need explained if it doesn’t have something to do with the character explaining it. Keep all of your dialogue and talking points specific to your character’s personality so the lines don’t feel forced or out of place. Everything should run smoothly from one sentence to the next and it should be concise! 

3. Writing Dialects

Generally, showin’ the way people talk is frowned upon, but I say do whateva you want, sugah. If your character has a unique voice that is easily shown by writing things like “’lo” or “’ello” or “showin” or “sugah” then go for it. Don’t let your dreams be dreams. 

However, avoid things that would confuse your reader like m’no’gonnah or other weird apostrophe laded words that could drag them out of the story. Unless your character is Scottish or Australian. Then strange slang and apostrophes abound. Do whatever you need to do to get your dialogue on paper. 

But for the love of god please don’t be racist. 

4. The “Said” Conundrum

A lot of my writing friends swear up and down that you should only use “said” or “asked” while writing dialogue. And that you should avoid using “whispered” or “exclaimed” or “ejaculated” (okay this one you shouldn’t use. I’m watching you J.K Rowling), but I disagree.

Write what feels comfortable for you, but don’t be afraid to use “said” where you can, just not TOO often. I get myself in hot water with my editor over this a lot.

Using words like “whispered” or “exclaimed” or “growled” can bring more depth to a scene. Especially if you’re trying to keep it simple and avoid unnecessary description (like trying to figure out how to explain someone was talking softly by writing “she said in a whisper” or trying to explain how someone is growling or hissing by “she said with a growl” or “she said with a hiss”). 

The point is, write it however you want and fix it later :).

5. Dialogue Should Tell a Story

Dialogue is an important part of your story. It should be able to move the scene on it’s own. If you take out all your words and descriptions, does your dialogue propel the scene forward? Does it tell people more about your characters or your world? Does it offer insight? 

If not then you need to start over. Dialogue scenes are supposed to be dynamic, insightful, funny, maybe even flirty without making people groan or roll their eyes (unless it’s a pun). 

Read your dialogue out loud, have other people read it out loud. If there are any parts you tune out or skip or think are too long, cut them shorter. It anything makes you put your head in your hands and sigh, make it better. 

And as always, keep being creative every single day