read these articles in sequence starting with Conflict
your Dialogue fails, so will your story
effective dialogue is often what distinguishes the
professional writer from the not quite. This is no
surprise because dialogue is probably the most difficult
novel element to master.
everything hinges upon it—if your dialogue fails, so
will your story.
Dialogue used for?
in real life often ramble on for no particular reason.
Characters in stories, however, never do.Dialogue must do one of the following:
Establish the tone or mood
Provide exposition or back
Reveal character and
Create immediacy and intimacy
(build reader empathy)
Move the plot forward and/or
increase its pace
Create or add to existing
Remind the reader of things
they may have forgotten
If your story’s dialogue does
none of these, delete. If it does only one, try for two.
Does two? Can it do three? The richer its meaning, the
richer your story.
How Dialogue shouldn’t be used
Although it’s on the
list above, be very careful when using dialogue to
introduce exposition and back story. Always ask yourself: would I
say this in a conversation? We usually
don’t go on and on about the past, especially
with friends who probably already know it. Back story and exposition should be hinted at and
slowly drawn throughout the progression of a story.
should “sound” Real
but does not replicate real speech. It’s a condensed,
distilled version of real talk, thick on meaning, thin
on chatter. The trick is to preserve the spontaneity
required by a “real” conversation while instilling
the meaning required by a story.
Most people don’t speak in
perfect grammar. Real speech is sloppy. People leave
out words, compress phases into single words, use
contractions, interrupt each other and talk in
slang. Your dialogue should be the same.
Go out of your house and
listen to the many different ways different people
talk, and notice that how a person talks depends on
whom they’re talking to. Incorporate any
appropriate juicy bits you hear in your own writing.
Write dialogue in a quick fury
but in editing make sure every line has a purpose.
Emotion and Conflict
Dialogue is brought to life by the
underlying emotion and conflict that's driving it. If
you're having trouble with a scene or the words sound
stilted, drop down and get your bearings on the
emotional context that underpins the characters and
their situation. Use it as a basis from which to build. Do so and your character's language will have more
guts and honesty and your story more focus and
Characters, like real people, should each have their
Use language particular to a character
and organically reflective of their background and
People often have habitual
phrases and/or mistakes that they tend to repeat.
Create distinctions through a
character's vocabulary, accent, what they talk about
and what they don't.
Open up a good book and you'll
be able to easily distinguish the words of the Harry
Potters from those of the Hagrids without need of a
Break it up
Never have long stretches of dialogue.
large blocks at strategic places with physical
action, replies, description and other story
elements. This both enriches the rhythm of the
dialogue and brings the conversation to life in your
Also space the conversation
within the page by giving each person their own
paragraph. This makes the page less overwhelming
(not an endless scroll of words) and also gives
readers a spatial beat between speakers that makes
following the conversation easier.
TAGS—he said, she said
Always clearly indicate who's
speaking using 'he said', 'she asked', etc. Never
force your reader to stop and have to figure out who's saying what.
This is especially crucial when several characters
Never let attributions get in
the way of your story. Cute tags like
“he barked” or “she whimpered” pull the
reader's attention out of your novel's spell and
aren't needed when dialogue is strong. The
tone of a character's language should emerge from both
the words themselves and the dramatic context.
Use dialogue and the
description around it to more powerfully convey what
you might be tempted to describe by attaching
adverbs to tags. Don't write dialogue like "I'm
going home," she said happily.
dialogue I wrote any
The classic way to test dialogue is to read it aloud.
Even better, have someone else read it (just as they
would in their head if they were reading your novel).
You’ll hear any cracks in rhythm and authenticity and
can make sure your characters don’t sound like actors
in a bad movie.