The Ultimate Guide To Writing Dialogue; 11 Amazing Steps To Get You Started

writing dialogue 101

If you are writing, this is probably one of the challenges you have encountered. Dialogue is simply a conversation between two people. Dialogues are important to develop the plot of your story and develop the journey of your character.

WHY DIALOGUE IS IMPORTANT

  • It helps distinguish your characters.
  • It advances your plot.

How Can You Write Good Dialogue?

Writing a good dialogue encompasses a lot which I will give you a detailed guide below;

1. Don’t Create Info Dumps

Info dumps are large chunks of information about your character or an event at the same time. This basically happens when your characters discuss something that is already known to them, such conversations are clumsy as it gives away the known.

A typical infodump;

Daisy, you are aware that Rosy’s wedding will put our entire holiday on hold. Yeah, I do, Mary and remember the big preparation that she planned last summer for it?

Now the character Mary already knows about Rosy’s wedding, having Daisy say it again to create awareness for your readers is creating an info dump, how to deal with it? This is a 4 method approach I learnt from Reedsy.

  • Use Arguments; So this is a rewrite of the above dialogue using an argument. This creates conflict as well.

Daisy, you said that Rosy’s wedding is the reason our holiday will be put on hold?

Nope, I said no such thing. Yes, you did, no need to go back on your words Mary said rolling her eyes.

  • Comparative Conversation; This simply having your character compare information for the facts.

So Rosy’s big wedding is coming down with a large to-do list, do you know about this? Not at all, Mary. I don’t think there is much left to do for her wedding.

  • Obvious Character; This approach makes a character oblivious to some facts of the event.

Guess what Daisy, Rosy’s wedding was moved up recently and now our entire holiday has been put on hold with all the heavy preparations. Damn, I had my entire holiday planned out.

  • Expository Narration; This approach provides a straightforward narration.

Daisy and Mary were worried, Rosy’s wedding preparations were taking forever to come to an end. It had put their entire holiday on hold.

I believe this 4 step approach has helped you combat your info dumps.

2. Use Sub-texts

sub-texts in dialogue

A subtext is an underlying and often distinct theme in a piece of writing or conversation. Charles Harris described subtext as a muscle, he said the only way to develop it was to WORK it. Be patient, work hard and the muscle will grow stronger.

When we write, it’s normal to make our dialogue unsubtle and straight to the point, but when we revise our work we take all those lines and find ways to hide those thoughts by making our characters talk(overtly) of other things.

Benefits Of Using Sub-texts

  • Subtexts build-up to future plot reveals; When writing, sub-texts build up plotlines that will be revealed later. This gives your reader the intention to seek further for information, thus keep reading your book. This gives your story a mysterious atmosphere if you ask me. Mysterious is good sometimes.
  • It reveals a character’s feeling; Through sub-text, your characters feeling about something or event is revealed.

Simple ways to develop that muscle is to;

  • Listen: Listen to how real people talk. A good example is when spouses communicate without using words if you know what I mean. If you have a partner or spouse I am very sure you have told him/her that you didn’t want to partake in an activity without being straightforward with words. There is nothing like a good slap of reality😎. So keep your ears open.
  • Read: Read, read, read. You probably heard the saying that great writers started as great readers😉. Read!!!
  • Know Your Character: This is a struggle for new writers, if you are still in the phase of crafting your character, here is a good place to start. Read that and come back to this post. To create rich subtexts you need to know your character inside out. Make them your imaginary friends.
  • Practise, practise, practise: Always have a notebook with you at all times to write down ideas on your commute home or during recess. Play with these lines in your head, try different approaches. Keep exercising that muscle.
  • Cut the extras: Some lines come with burdens, you need to read through and see what line that you can remove and still send your message. Less is better.

ACTION PLAN A

Summarize a dialogue from your last read, using 2 sticky notes:

  • Write the literal meaning of the dialogue on one.
  • Next, write down on the 2nd one your impressions of the dialogue, what does it tell us about these people and what plot developments could it foretell?

Once you have done this you have succeeded in doing 2 things; Your first sticky note contains the direct meaning of their dialogue while your second sticky note tells us the subtle meaning of their dialogue, hence a SUB-TEXT💃

ACTION PLAN B

Write a scenario of a dialogue between two friends talking about a traumatic incident without revealing the actual incident via the conversation, describe their current state of mind so your reader will expect a further revelation. A typical example is given below.

It’s true, I discovered the truth today. I have been deceived all along, Sherry said teary-eyed as Grace pulled her into a warm embrace.

If you can tell me the “truth” in the above statement, comment below let’s discuss.😉

3. Use Conflict

conflict in dialogue writing

The simplest formula for conflict is CHARACTER + WANT + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT. So conflict is simply a struggle between two opposing forces. Conflict adds tension and suspense to your story. Writing conflict is tricky and It helps drive the plot of your story. Conflicting your characters does the following.

  • Conflict-based dialogues deepen characterization.
  • It pushes your story towards a new event horizon.

There are various type of conflict such as

  • Character vs character
  • Character vs nature
  • Character vs technology
  • Character vs supernatural
  • Character vs fate
  • Character vs self

When using conflict in your story remember to deepen the conflict with gestures and/or the occasional physical description. Also, use conflict in dialogue as a catalyst that propels your story to new events.

ACTION PLAN

Take a passage of dialogue from your favourite book with conflict and do this 2 things.

  • Write down what the conflict reveals about your characters.
  • Write down the new development the conflict makes possible.

4. Have A Unique Voice

Giving your characters a unique voice help to distinguish one from another. Characters are differentiated in two ways. In speech and in gesture. To create a unique & realistic character’s voice pay attention to the way people speak. The next step is altering word choice, verbal tics & habitual language.

Changing emphasis or tempo is important too, and can be done through punctuation. Reading aloud is a great way to learn how and where to punctuate the rhythm of character speech. A character’s voice may reveal their personality and state of mind or mood. Every single character in your story should have a unique voice of their own. When it comes to gesture, you can enhance the individuality of character by thinking about the way your character;

  • Moves their body.
  • Facial expressions.
  • Hand movements

ACTION PLAN A

Pick up a book that contains different types of characters, preferable a fantasy novel. Go through it and find dialogue excerpts to work on. Once you choose your favourite one, observe the following.

  • Do some characters use slang?
  • Are there different accents in the story?
  • Does one character talk more than some others?
  • What expressions of your character gives you special details about them.

ACTION PLAN B

After doing exercise A, write down your own dialogue giving 2 or more characters distinct unique voices. Play around it, enjoy😊.

5. Punctuate

dialogue exercises

Punctuating your work correctly helps to eliminate errors and helps your reader understand what you are trying to say. When writing dialogue, punctuating helps to send a clearer meaning to your reader. Therefore there are many punctuations you need to get acquainted with such as;

  • full stop
  • comma
  • semicolon
  • colon
  • exclamation mark
  • question mark
  • apostrophe
  • brackets
  • dash
  • hyphen
  • ellipsis

ACTION PLAN

Study about the common functions of the punctuation marks stated above and start putting them to proper use if you haven’t started. If you have writing mistakes and errors in your work like any other human being (myself included) I recommend you start using a grammar tool. Grammarly is your best choice and it is FREE, give it a trial.

.

6. Give Your Dialogue Purpose

Don’t randomly insert a dialogue when you feel like, write dialogues that give your story meaning and has depth to it.

ACTION PLAN

Cut out fluffy dialogue.

7. Balance Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags are phrases that attribute a line of dialogue to one or more of your character to make your reader aware of who is speaking. A common example is “said”. Using too little dialogue tags hurts your readers because that creates confusion on who is speaking at a particular time. Using too many tags is equally annoying, the sole purpose of a dialogue tag is to show who is speaking to your reader. So how do you balance it?

This is not a set in stone rule for writing dialogue but it is advisable to read aloud and see when it gets annoying and when it gets confusing. Basically, if you can establish who is speaking without using dialogue tags, do it. You can do this using body language and gesture or calling out your character’s name. A typical example is:

Instead of:

Do you have a meeting at noon, she asked Mary.

Say

Mary, you have a meeting at noon?

I would advise you to use this technique sparingly. With all that said, dialogue tags will make you look terrible when used wrongly.

ACTION PLAN

Practice the use of dialogue tags with the above points. TIP: Don’t use adverbs in dialogue tags.

8. Said Is Not Dead

Now, you just read about dialogue tags but I must emphasize on the fact that said is not dead. In an effort to make your work look fancy with complex words you may get carried away when writing dialogue tags. The perfect verb to use is “said”. Why because it doesn’t slow you down and it’s almost invincible to your reader. Compare these two sentences.

A I have got a cold, she said.

B I have got a cold, she purred.

I want to know your reaction after the second sentence😆, please do share in the comments below. So, what about when “said” doesn’t convey the right message you are trying to send? Use the simplest verb you can find to get the meaning across.

Example;

  • He whispered
  • She shouted
  • He mumbled

9. Don’t Overwrite

overwriting

So many writers get their head stuck in the research black hole, they open their editor to write, two seconds later they open their favourite google tab to research the perfect colour for a wedding dress😅, not belittling anyone’s search history, but writers look up the most ridiculous things(myself included). So after like 3 hours, 500 tabs opened they have got a book size of information to inject into their book, that is called OVER WRITING. Create a balance between giving solid information about something and feeding us with too many details. When writing jargon on any field whatsoever be careful with our poor heads we do not need to attend medical or culinary school through your story.

ACTION PLAN: Cut the jargon.

10. Listen To Real Dialogue

Writers are good listeners, I have heard that so many times to make my ears cry. This is not true in some cases, but a good number of writers are great listeners(myself included🙈). Listening to real people gives you a slap of reality.

ACTION PLAN: Keep your ears open.

11. Read, Read, Read

You already know this one as well, “readers are leaders”. What better way to build a house than to learn from someone that has already built one. Reading a lot will drastically improve writing dialogues for you. So read as much as you can, preferable the genre you write about.

ACTION PLAN

  • Go to your shelf or bookcase, pick out a book you have a great interest in.
  • Find a comfortable spot and sit,(not too relaxed so you don’t fall asleep).
  • Open your book and READ, READ, READ😁

TIP: Read aloud(sometimes).

With all that writing dialogue would become so much fun. You can now kick off with a lot of speed. What tip did you find useful? If you have any other useful tip kindly, share in the comment section.

Sharing is Caring👇.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *