How to Write Great Dialogue
There are myriad essential elements in writing about how to write great dialogue. It is one of the foundations of good writing.
Because poorly written dialogue will make readers cringe. It is all too easy for characters to come across as flat, for verbal exchanges to be completely unrealistic.
Good dialogue, on the other hand, is appropriate and representative of a character. It rings true. It helps create well-rounded characters who are authentic and realistic. Good dialogue will lead to memorable characters and a book readers don’t want to put down.
When Dialogue is No Good
There have been plenty of times when I’ve started to read a book, only to stop because the dialogue didn’t ring true, because it felt contrived, or because it just didn’t sound like how real people talk.
So…mastering dialogue is a crucial step in your writing journey.
First, let’s define DIALOGUE.
- The formal definition is: the things that are said by the characters in a story, movie, play, etc.
In a practical sense, DIALOGUE is the direct communication between characters in our stories.
Let’s also define DIALECT and DICTION, as these are important words to understand.
- DIALECT is a particular form of language distinguished by vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation specific to a region or area
- DICTION is the choice of words and phrases in speech
Dialogue in Real Life
In our real lives, DIALOGUE, which includes dialect and diction, tells us about the people around us. Through dialogue, we learn about their:
- Ideas (demonstrating level of education, breadth of knowledge, interests, etc)
- Culture & Background (through dialect, language & vocabulary choices, which can tell us about the region or place from which a person comes)
What Dialogue Does In a Story
In our stories, DIALOGUE does the same thing. It helps the reader learn about our characters implicitly, meaning in subtle ways through word choice, and dialect, etc, and explicitly through what is actually said. We learn about people through what they choose to say, as well as what they don’t.
Two Types of Dialogue
There are two types of dialogue:
- Verbal, in which characters speak aloud;
- Internal, in which characters speak to themselves. Internal dialogue is how Deep Point of View is achieved.
Writing good dialogue means understanding its purpose in a story. It accomplishes a variety of things:
- Dialogue breaks up the chunks of narrative. People respond to how much ‘white space’ there is on the pages. The more ‘white space’, the more a story is perceived a having action. Heavy narrative chunks scare people! Dialogue can break up these larger narrative sections.
- Dialogue helps to create distinct characters through dialect, diction, speech patterns, and vocabulary. You want your characters to be distinct. How Hagrid speaks is very different than how Dumbledore speaks. This is accomplished through dialect, diction, speech patterns, and vocabulary.
- Dialogue is a means of imparting essential information, which moves the plot forward. Dialogue, by definition, is a SHOWING element of your story. When used judiciously, it can move the plot from one point to another.
Writing Authentic Dialogue
As writers, we want our dialogue to sound authentic. But in order to accomplish that, we need to look at dialogue through the lens of our story, not through the lens of us as regular people.
By that I mean that dialogue in a story MUST serve a specific purpose. Don’t include pointless chatter at the dinner table. Don’t include things like: “How was your day?” or “Let’s go to the store tomorrow.” These bits serve no purpose and equate to boring for the reader.
3 Things Dialogue Does
Dialogue must do one of the three things we just talked about. If it doesn’t…
1. Break up the narrative
3. Communicate backstory
4. Move the plot forward
…it doesn’t belong in the story.
There is so much more to say about dialogue. WriterSpark has a breakout mini-course pulled from the 30 Days to Craft Your Novel course. If you want to learn more about dialogue, with plenty of examples and and activities to hone your dialogue-writing skill, check out the course by clicking below:
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