Here’s the second half of my top 8 tips for writing good dialogue! ICYMI, last week I set out write about my top eight tips, but it turned out I had more to say about each tip than I realized. Instead of cramming everything into one post, I decided it would be better to split it into two.
I shared my first for tips in last week’s post. Here are the next four:
5) Make sure your dialogue doesn’t sound too real
As much as you want your dialogue to sound as realistic as possible, you don’t want it to sound too real. Next time you’re in a public place, do some eavesdropping. Make a point to notice how much filler and repetition we use in our day-to-day conversations. It’s not uncommon to hear a sentence that goes something like this:
“Like, I’m driving down the road, and this guy just, like, came out of nowhere and completely cut me off! And I was like, ‘hello! I’m driving here!'”
I know when I talk, I use “like” and “just” a lot more than I need to. And while you can definitely drop words like this into your dialogue to add personality, if use those types of words at the same frequency that we use them in real life, they start to interfere with your storytelling. The reader shouldn’t have to sift through filler words and repetitions to figure out what your character is trying to say. If you do this consistently, you’re going to lose your reader.
Additionally, if you have a character who has a stutter, or an accent, or any kind of verbal tick, I would advise against writing those elements into the dialogue. Instead, describe those aspects of the character’s voice in the narrative. This makes it easier for the reader to decipher, while still capturing your character’s unique sound.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I think J.K. Rowling did a great job of writing in accents and dialect into Harry Potter. However, if this is a rule you’re going to break, make sure you know what you’re doing and make sure your realistic writing doesn’t interfere with your story.
6) Action and Action beats can take the place of dialogue tags
You don’t always have to say “he said” or “she asked” everytime someone speaks. One way around this is to use a character’s actions to pace your dialogue and to distinguish your speaker. For example,
“You ready?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No, I want to throw up.”
The fact that the narrator shakes her head in a new paragraph is enough to tell us that it’s the narrator who’s speaking the second piece of dialogue. Using action beats gets you away from using said all the time, and gives you a chance to dig into your character a little bit more by telling your readers about their movements and body language.
7) Your dialogue and narrative shouldn’t echo one another
If you tell your reader something in the narrative, you don’t need to also have your characters say it in dialogue. This is something I see a lot in new writers, and something I definitely did myself. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
He wandered around the room and she couldn’t help but wonder if he had any idea what he was doing.”Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” she asked.
Now, this is a simplistic version of this concept, but you get the idea. All aspects of your story need to serve a purpose. If your character is going to echo something your narrator already told us, then what’s the purpose of saying it again in dialogue? Instead, have your narrator describe the situation then have your character vocalize their thoughts. So a rewrite of the example above might look something like this:
He wandered around looking aimless and lost. She cut into his path stomping him dead in his tracks. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
This way we get a picture of the situation. We see that the male character looks a little clueless and that the female character isn’t happy about it, but we also don’t know what she’s really concerned about until she speaks. This gives a purpose to both the narrative and the dialogue.
8) Use character names in dialogue sparingly
I think you’ll find that your dialogue can stand pretty well on its own without your characters consistently addressing each other. A lot of times, adding character names into dialogue slows down the pace of the conversation. In my experience character names just aren’t all that necessary in dialogue, which kind of makes them wasted words. The only time I really use character names in my own dialogue is if one character is trying to get another’s attention or if a character is trying to stress a point. Otherwise, I just let my characters talk.
As always, I hope this helps! If you missed part one, you can find it here!
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Now it’s your turn: What’s your favorite part about writing dialogue? What about your least favorite? Tell me about it in the comments! You can also share any of your own tips and tricks!