Oftentimes, dialogue is the most difficult thing to write. It’s hard to make it sound realistic and relatable. As writers, we are told not to write like we speak however, that is difficult when writing dialogue. I get asked a lot how to write it and if I have any tips for people who are trying to write good dialogue. Below are my seven tips to writing dialogue. Yes, seven. I’ve never really liked even numbers.
Write First; Fill in Later
If I have a dialogue based scene or if the dialogue is super fucking important in a particular scene, I always write the dialogue first then fill in the details later. I also call this “bare boning” because it’s essentially the skeleton of the scene, then I add the meat later. I feel this helps me keep their conversation more organic and flow more naturally because I’m not having to constantly pause my thought or the conversation in my head to write what they are doing, physically.
Read it Out Loud
Reading it out loud helps me make sure it sounds organic. I know, personally, I have a habit of never using contractions when I write, but they are absolutely necessary in dialogue. Reading it out loud or to someone else will show any awkward phrases.
Don’t Write like you Speak
I know this may be controversial. My argument is that you aren’t your characters (not really). They probably speak a bit differently than you. They have different experiences. They grew up with different influences than you. They may not even be your age, which means they will probably use different types of slang terminology. Write like your character speaks, not how you speak.
Dialect (AKA Accents)
I have written characters with a southern US accent, and although you can hear it in all of their words (if they were to really speak which they do in my head), I only select a few words to show their accent in the way they talk. Like, instead of dropping all ‘g’s’ on words ending in ‘ing’, I’ll choose one or two to drop in the sentence. I also try to get creative with it. I show their accent or where they are from in the words/phrases they use. Someone from the Sothern US may use phrases like ‘lick of sense’ or ‘down yonder’ while someone from the UK may say ‘lads’ or ‘mates’ instead of friends.
Don’t Write Small Talk
Your reader doesn’t give a single fuck how the weather unless it is pivotal to the plot. If there is a scene with dialogue, every single bit of it should be pivotal to the plot in some way whether it is a reveal or moving it along. If there isn’t a reason for the dialogue, then do not write it. It gets boring.
If it can be Said in Dialogue, Wait Until Dialogue to Say It
Do not reveal anything in the inner monologue. Anything. This keeps your readers guessing about certain character traits. Does your character have a secret? Don’t reveal it until he says it outload. Is the mother of your heroine dead? Let her reveal that information to someone in dialogue. This helps limit the inner monologue your characters have and keeps the readers more in the moment. It also helps you bridge various conversations to one another so you don’t have random spurts to dialogue.
Avoid Long Text of Dialogue
I know this is sometimes difficult if one character is doing most of the talking. I like to break it up with questions. Let me use my two main characters in the Take me to Church Series as my example. If Harlan is telling Luka his story (he does eventually) it would make sense for Harlan to be speaking a lot in that scene. I break it up by having Luka ask him questions and contribute to the conversation.
I hope this was helpful to you in someway! Please let me know if you have any request on other author tips. Come chat with me on my social medias below. I just posted a video on my Instagram where I read the blurb of my book, Cool for the Summer, in a very dramatic way. I plan to continue this series, so come say hello!