Appropriate, well-written dialogue can make your story or script shine. If you need writing tips for dialogue, check out our helpful guide.
While the plot and character development lay the foundation of what makes a great story, it can be safely said that dialogue gives it heart. The dialogue draws the audience in and makes the storing exciting and interesting.
Dialogue allows an author to flesh out their characters, deepening their personalities and helping readers understand and empathize. It can also make a story more engaging by breaking up the monotony of pure narration.
1. Read Your Dialogue Aloud
First and foremost, your dialogue needs to be realistic. When writing lines, make sure to word them based on how people would speak in conversations in real life. For example, someone would not reply to “How are you?” with “I am fine; nothing much has happened. Thanks for asking. And how about you?” This is too monotonous and doesn’t reflect real-life speech.
This is why it is helpful to read the dialogue you write out loud to ensure it matches what someone would say. You should make changes if it sounds too robotic, unrealistic, or outrageous. Keep editing it until you feel it sounds appropriate. Dialogue should mirror how people talk to draw readers’ attention to the characters and story.
“How are you?”
“Oh, I’m fine, thanks. And you?”
2. Less Is More
An overabundance of dialogue can be tough to read, so it is important to be conscious of how often you insert dialogue into the story. This is not to say you should use dialogue sparingly, but be sure to pick points where you believe it would be most impactful.
Whenever you want to put dialogue into a part of your story, consider the following: Would dialogue help embellish this element? Why do I want to use dialogue here? By asking yourself these questions, you will ensure the dialogue is authentic and adds to the story.
3. Use Different Dialogue Tags
Dialogue tags help convey a character’s tone and include words such as “said,” “exclaimed,” and “asked.” However, refrain from always using “said” to give your character and dialogue a bit of personality.
“I’m on the honor roll,” he boasted.
In this case, the word “boasted” helps characterize the person who said it, showing who the character is and how he delivers this line. “Said” is still appropriate, but a different word would better suit this line.
Tip: Don’t be shy to use “said” if you feel it is most appropriate. Choose the dialogue tag that best suits your character’s tone and personality.
4. Give Your Characters a Distinct, Consistent Voice
Every person has a unique way of speaking, and your characters are the same! Give each character their own tone, style, and flair when writing their dialogue. For example, one character may be fond of using big words and sounding boastful, while another may speak more erratically. Differences in characters’ voices can be as simple as the example below:
Character 1: “For what are you doing this?”
Character 2: “Why are you doing this?”
Keeping each character’s voice consistent throughout the story is essential unless the plot demands it. You can’t have your character speaking hurriedly with such a limited vocabulary in one scene, then sounding like an astrophysicist in the next.
Every good story needs a strong character. To learn more, read our guide to common character archetypes.
5. Pick Your Words Wisely
When writing dialogue, it is also crucial to use appropriate language. Unless that is the point you’re trying to make, avoid over-description or run-on sentences, as this can often distract readers from the message.
In addition, be sure that your words match the world your story is set in. Words like “gonna” and “wanna” don’t belong in a story in the 1700s. When it comes to slang, be sure not to overuse it, as it may come off as forced at times; choose the situations where you use it carefully.
6. Cut the Small Talk
Remember that a story’s main point of dialogue is to embellish or add “color” to specific moments. You aren’t writing a movie script- remember that dialogue should be kept to a minimum.
To make a conversation feel more “natural,” you may be pressured to include small talk, such as greetings and minor, unimportant details. However, it is important to note: if it doesn’t affect the plot, don’t add it. Refrain from including lines such as “Hey, what’s up?” and “What did you have for lunch?” if they are not important to the plot.
7. Keep It Brief
Dialogue should be brief and precise; remember that your readers need to be able to follow the plot. Complex dialogue and pages of speech can be challenging to follow, so you should only include the necessary details in a conversation.
Avoid overusing dialogue to the point that it becomes the primary method of storytelling in a certain scene. Some dialogue can more efficiently be conveyed through narration, such as the example below.
“Would you watch where you’re going?” the stranger exclaimed.
Taken aback, James muttered, “Sorry.”
“You’re not sorry at all! Say it as you mean it.”
“Well how would you know?”
“Respect your elders.”
“Sorry, I have work. I gotta go,” James said before walking away to the old man’s continued protesting.
For many readers, this may drone on and on and cause them to lose interest. If it’s not important to the plot, replace an exchange like this with: They briefly sparred before James excused himself to get to work.
If you still need help, read our storytelling guide.
8. Minimize Long Speeches
It’s often easier to use dialogue to have your characters explain broad, complicated concepts in a speech. However, you should keep this to a minimum, as it can disrupt the pace of your story. It seems pretty dull if you have a character explaining all the laws of the world you’ve created through dialogue. Elements such as this would better be explored through narration.
If you must, split up speech-type dialogue by describing the setting in which the dialogue is being delivered. You can also explore the characters’ reactions in the conversation: describe their emotions, facial expressions, and actions.
9. Vary Your Types of Dialogue
There are multiple types of dialogue you can use when writing your story. For example, inner dialogue refers to your characters’ thoughts inside their heads. This often comes in the form of a monologue.
Think, Stephanie. Think. She thought to herself worriedly.
On the other hand, outer dialogue is the more conventional form of dialogue and presents a conversation between two or more characters.
“Do you know this man?” The stranger asked, pointing to the image on his phone.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t recognize him.” James said hastily.
Good dialogue helps showcase the plot and characters of your story. By using both inner and outer dialogue, you can give readers a better idea of who your character is and the world you’ve conceptualized.
One of the primary functions of dialogue is to help develop your character. What you make them say has a big impact on readers’ impressions. You show your character’s personality by using a specific sentence structure or diction, such as slang.
In addition, when your character is delivering dialogue, describe what they look like and how they act, as this can give readers a better idea of who the character is. Make sure you are as descriptive as possible.
Every good story has a hero and a villain. Our guide to the protagonist vs. antagonist explains what every storyteller must know.