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  • Writer's pictureRachel Demeter

How to Write Dialogue that Shines

Updated: Sep 9, 2023


Tyrion Lannister Drinks and Knows Things

"I drink and I know things. That's what I do." Tyrion Lannister


It's essential to craft compelling dialogue that not only advances the plot but also captures the essence of your characters. Effective dialogue can make your story come alive, engaging your readers and immersing them in the world you've created. In this blog, I'll share actionable tips and examples on how to write dialogue that shines, ensuring your readers are hooked from the very first word.


Understanding the Purpose of Dialogue


Before delving into the art of writing dialogue, it's crucial to understand its purpose. Dialogue serves multiple functions in a story:

  1. Character Development: Dialogue offers insights into your characters' personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. What they say, how they say it, and when they say it can reveal a lot about them.

  2. Plot Advancement: Dialogue can move your plot forward by conveying crucial information, introducing conflict, or resolving issues.

  3. Engagement: Well-crafted dialogue keeps readers engaged and invested in your story. It brings your characters to life and makes the narrative more relatable.

  4. Subtext: Subtext is a powerful tool that can take your dialogue from ordinary to extraordinary. It involves conveying deeper layers of meaning beneath the surface of what your characters say. Subtext allows you to engage your readers' intellect and imagination, inviting them to decipher hidden motives, emotions, and conflicts within your story. Text: "I think we should work together on this project." Subtext: "I want to get closer to you, but I can't admit it directly."

Now that we've established why dialogue is essential, let's dive into the techniques that will help you write dialogue that truly shines.


Observe Real Conversations


To write authentic dialogue, start by listening to real conversations. Pay attention to the way people speak, their cadence, and the natural flow of communication. This can help you avoid the trap of writing dialogue that sounds forced or artificial.

For instance, in a casual conversation, interruptions, pauses, and even moments of misunderstanding are common. Using these elements in your dialogue can make it feel more genuine.


Here's an example:


Incorrect: "I can't believe you did that," she said angrily.

Improved: "I can't believe you did that," she said, her voice trembling.


Create Authentic & Unique Voices


Each character should have a distinct voice that reflects their personality, background, and experiences. A young artist will speak differently from a seasoned detective. Develop a character's unique vocabulary, speech patterns, and tone to make them memorable.


For instance, compare these two characters:


Character A: "Hey, what's up?"

Character B: "Greetings, how do you do?"


Even without attribution, readers should be able to identify who's speaking based on their unique voice.


Use Dialogue Tags Sparingly


While it's essential to let readers know who is speaking, overusing dialogue tags like "he said" or "she exclaimed" can be distracting. Instead, rely on context and occasional tags to avoid redundancy.


Example:


"I can't believe you did that," she said angrily.

"I can't believe you did that!" Her eyes flashed with anger.


... But Use "Said" as Your Go-To Dialogue Tag


When it comes to dialogue tags, the simple and unobtrusive "said" should be your best friend. Why? Because it's the one tag that most readers effortlessly overlook. Using fancy or creative dialogue tags like "murmured," "exclaimed," or "chortled" can be distracting and disrupt the reader's immersion in the story. Instead, "said" should be your default choice.


"Said" is essentially invisible to the reader. Ignore posts and charts that recommend alternatives to this dialogue tag! Replacing "said" with fancy words is something novice writers mistakenly do.


Correct: "I can't believe you did that," Leah said.

Avoid: "I can't believe you did that," Leah exclaimed with fury.


By consistently using "said," you allow the reader to focus on the dialogue itself and the emotions conveyed through the characters' words and actions, rather than being pulled out of the story by attention-grabbing tags.


Remember, the goal of dialogue tags is to clarify who is speaking, not to showcase your thesaurus skills. "Said" seamlessly accomplishes this while maintaining the flow and immersion of your narrative.


Show, Don't Tell


One of the golden rules of writing applies to dialogue as well. Instead of telling readers what a character is feeling or thinking, show it through their words and actions.


Example:


Telling: "I'm so scared," he said.

Showing: His voice trembled as he spoke. "I can't do this anymore."


Use Subtext and Conflict


In real life, not everything is said explicitly. People often have hidden agendas, unspoken desires, or conflicting emotions. Incorporate subtext and conflict into your dialogue to add depth to your characters and intrigue to your plot.


Example:


Text: "I'm happy for you."

Subtext: She forced a smile, masking the jealousy that ate at her.


Edit and Polish


Writing dialogue is just the first step. Don't be afraid to revise and polish your dialogue to make it shine. Read it aloud to yourself or have someone else read it to you. This can help you identify awkward phrasing, inconsistencies, or places where the dialogue could be tightened.


Stay Consistent


Consistency is key when writing dialogue. Make sure your characters' voices remain true throughout the story. Keep a character profile or note of their speech patterns and quirks to avoid unintentional changes.


Research Cultural Nuances


If your story features characters from different cultural backgrounds or time periods, research their speech patterns, idioms, and cultural nuances. Accuracy in dialogue can greatly enhance your story's authenticity.


Conclusion: How to Write Dialogue that Shines


Writing dialogue that shines is an art that takes time and practice to master. It's about creating characters who feel real, conversations that are engaging, and emotions that resonate with readers. So, go ahead, let your characters speak and bring your story to life with dialogue that truly shines.


Happy writing!


About Rachel L. Demeter


I write historical romance novels that'll sweep you off your feet! Check out my books on Amazon. 🥰

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