Monday, November 14, 2011

10 Tips for Writing Dialogue

by Laura Backes
      Practice – There’s nothing that replaces practice. Take every opportunity to write dialogue. It might be in a doctor’s waiting room, on the bus, or in a plane. Wherever you are, look around and fill in dialogue. What are those two whispering across the room?

Listen – Listen to real people speak. They don’t use correct grammar. They don’t use full sentences. Sometimes they talk over each other. Write dialogue like it really sounds. Dialogue is rich in its own way- the pauses, the crosstalk, the things left out are just as important as the words that are said.

Speak – Read what you write aloud. You’ll hear where it sounds stilted or dry. You’ll hear where it doesn’t flow, and where it does. If you read fast enough, your brain will automatically correct what you’ve done wrong, so listen to yourself as you read aloud. You’ll gain a lot.

Let Go– Don’t worry about making it perfect. Let your characters speak. They may say things that you never imagined. If you know your characters well and let them speak through you, you’ll end up with a much richer piece.

Ramble – Feel free to ramble on. People never get to the point in conversation. Unless you’re writing a police officer or doctor giving a report, don’t expect the characters to spew out just the facts. People beat around the bush; it’s a fact of life. Let your character ramble and they’ll end up much deeper and more real.

Simplify – Don’t make your characters say everything. Simplify your dialogue. A ‘yep’ or ‘nope’ can speak volumes about a character. They don’t have to respond to others, and they don’t have to finish a thought. Let your readers fill in some gaps.

Slang – What you speak is a living language. It changes. Let your characters reflect who they are and where they come from. If they want to say ain’t, then let them. It’s not your job to be the grammar police for your characters.  People speak badly. They dangle participles, they use fragments, and they swear. Remember that it’s not you that’s speaking- it is your character. They have their own voice so let them use it.

Less is More- Don’t go overboard on the accents. Tell the reader what accent a character has and then give hints in the dialogue. No one wants to read a page of apostrophes and deliberately misspelled words. A ya’ll or a gotta once in a while will remind readers of who’s talking, without the stress.

Follow – Make sure your readers can follow who is talking. A he said, she said will do wonders for a dialogue-heavy piece. If you have more than four quotes without saying who is talking, you may want to throw that in. It doesn’t have to be complex. ‘He yelled’ works just as well as ‘he screamed, shouting to the heavens as his bellowing cry resounded off the walls’.

Make it Visual –Remember that people are reading your dialogue, not speaking it (unless you’re a screenwriter). If you want a character to pause, take a breath, or even stutter, you’ll have to write it. Breaking up a quote is a great way to show a pause. ‘It’s this way,’ he said, ‘I’m leaving.’ Because of that break, the reader sees the pause without being told it’s there. Unless you have a character doing something special with the time between words, make it visual but not explicit.

Author Bio:
This is a guest post from Laura Backes, she enjoys writing about all kinds of subjects and also topics related to internet service in my area.  You can reach her at:


  1. Thanks for the reminders. What a concise list of tips to have handy.

  2. A good post overall although I have to disagree with one point and that's rambling. I think everything in the manuscript must move the story forward. I see what you're saying up to a point but I don't think what you describe would work very well in a book.

    L.K. Watts


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