Don’t people talk in dialogues? Rhetorical question–of course, they do! So why aren’t more writers using dialogue?
Dialogue writing: why you should try it
Nowadays, most of the creative arts are following a trend–humanizing everything. Perhaps it’s a response to an increasingly automated world, a way to infuse humanity into the humanities, so to speak. Whatever the reason, it means that dialogue is trending.
Well-written dialogue adds that extra bit of relatability, even if it registers in readers on such a subconscious level that they never actually pause to say, “I love the fact that this is a dialogue.”
Basically, a dialogue is more easily readable and resonates better with readers’ lived experiences.
This doesn’t mean that you should turn all of your writing into dialogue, though. Just use it where it sounds more natural and evokes more emotion than reported speech. You’ll be infusing your story with relevance and relatability!
Of course, while dialogue is crucial to captivating storytelling, its inclusion doesn’t give you license to neglect other rhetorical devices.
How to write dialogue that’ll captivate every one of your readers:
Now, dialogue is great and a success on its own, but there are still a few rules and techniques for composing it that can make it even more fruitful and effective.
Here are some crucial tips for creating impeccable dialogue:
1. Punctuate, Punctuate, Punctuate!
Surround the speech with quotation marks, and make punctuation your best friend. Punctuation can sharpen the emotions within this dialogue, making it easier and more fun to live through.
How else can your readers understand characters’ anger or excitement without an exclamation mark? Or their confusion without a question mark? Or their hesitation without an ellipsis?
Moral of the story: Punctuation is king.
2. There’s more to dialogue tags than said.
This is a dialogue, and technically, people say things, but you have to add more emotion to the dialogue tag; people don’t just say things! They shout, they wonder, they hesitate, they muse, they cry, they inquire, they suggest, they accuse, they postulate–they do so much more than just say.
Make sure to change up the dialogue tag to match how the character is feeling and thinking, and how they’re expressing these feelings and thoughts.
3. Make the dialogue interesting.
Use dialogue to incite conflict, or to add suspicion, or any ingredient missing from your perfect recipe of a story.
Don’t dialogue for the sake of dialogue. Meaning, leave out the insignificant details that are not important to the core of the dialogue or the conflict, and focus on what makes the dialogue matter. Overlook the details that are too obvious to need addressing.
4. Use dialogue to build your characters.
Let me emphasize once more that you shouldn’t write dialogue for the sake of it. When using dialogue, make every word count in conveying your characters’ personalities and how they evolve.
Use specific vocabulary for every character so as to make it their own. Give each of them their own personality and voice. Make every character different and unique. Dialogue is the perfect tool for that.
5. Make your dialogue purposeful.
Not every dialogue matters. Make a purpose out of your dialogue. Ask yourself: What is the outcome of this conversation? How will it change my characters? How will it reveal my characters? How will it affect the storyline?
Your dialogue has to have a place in your storyline and a clear result. Make sure your objectives are best met by illustrating your characters’ speech in this way.
Don’t make your dialogue one in which the reader finishes reading and wonders, “Okay, but what does that mean? Does it even mean anything? What’s the point of this conversation?” Unless, of course, you are deliberately trying to set them up for mystery or misdirect them.
6. Separate the characters.
Make it clear as day who’s talking and what he or she is saying. People often get confused by dialogue with an uneven flow, and end up losing who said what.
Make it clear who’s speaking and add even a bit of a clarification in the spoken words, as sometimes the words of both parties are very similar and it can get confusing to the readers. You want your audience to think, not to do exhausting mental gymnastics that will cause their attention to wander.
And, finally, remember: dialogue is human. Humans stutter and don’t know what to say. No human conversation is clear of “err, hmm, uhh, ahh, ugh”, and neither should your dialogue be. Don’t forget to add the mumbles we use to express how we feel–they make a huge difference!
Now you know how to write dialogue and make every single word worth your reader’s time. Spoiler alert: your readers will love this.
Keep the dialogue brief and avoid writing long paragraphs or small talk, making sure it’s impactful. Stick to the appropriate tone of voice and choice of wording for both the characters and the chosen fictional world.
“I’m not sure if Jaimie’s coming,” said Julia. “We had a fight this morning”.
Dedicate a paragraph for each character and make sure to make it clear for the readers who are speaking. Also, don’t forget to use quotation marks.
Don’t overdo it, whether by overusing names or by using cliché dialogues. For important information, you can also use the rule of three.