By: Christina Lee
Dialogue: Why It Matters
“…Dialogue serves two basic functions in the scene: Either it moves the story forward or it reveals information about the character.” Syd Field
Have you ever come across a piece of dialogue so natural and engaging you actually couldn’t stop reading? While the words may seem effortless to readers, writing it was probably a painstaking process. It’s tough to write good, authentic dialogue. There are times when words flow out of you like honey and other times when every letter feels like it’s clawing its way out.
Learning how to write realistic dialogue is essential for any writer. The best kind of dialogue can bring vibrant, unforgettable characters to life. Good dialogue can seamlessly move the plot forward and deliver exposition. It can leave your readers wanting more. On the other hand, the poorly written dialogue might annoy your readers and cause them to dismiss your writing.
Without effective dialogue, even the most brilliant plots will bore readers. Since dialogue is an essential part of every writer’s arsenal, learning how to write it naturally all-important. If you’re a writer who wants to craft realistic dialogue, here are a few practices to incorporate into your writing and a few to avoid like the plague.
The Dos Of Writing Realistic Dialogue
If you’re struggling to write dialogue that sounds authentic, the good news is that you’re not alone. Many writers, even those with bestselling books, need to revise their dialogue several times before getting it right. Here are four practices to help improve your writing.
*Choose Simple Dialogue Tags
To elevate their writing, many writers use elaborate dialogue tags. Sometimes, simplicity is key. While there are more exciting tags, there is nothing wrong with the word ‘said.’ For most readers, the tag ‘said’ reads the most real and inconspicuous.
*Ensure Each Character Sounds Unique
In the same way that people in real life have distinct ways of speaking, so should your characters. When writing your dialogue, ask yourself if you can tell the difference between your characters based solely on their words. If you can’t distinguish between your characters through dialogue alone, this means your individual character’s personality won’t shine through. Revise, so each character sounds different.
Perhaps, you can give one character a favorite word they like to say often or a speech quirk like a stutter. Maybe they speak in short, concise sentences, or they love run-on sentences. One character could use slang, while another speaks awkwardly formal. There are plenty of ways to make your characters sound unique.
*Read It Aloud
“In dialogue, make sure that your attributives do not awkwardly interrupt a spoken sentence. Place them where the breath would come naturally in speech-that is, where the speaker would pause for emphasis, or take a breath. The best test for locating an attributive is to speak the sentence aloud.” Author: E.B. White
If you want to sound natural, the best way to check is to read it aloud. If you have a friend or partner who can read aloud with you, that’s even better. Otherwise, place yourself in the role of your characters while saying their lines out loud. If you based your character’s dialogue on someone you know, mimic that person’s voice and mannerisms as you read. Not only does this exercise help you to create a fully fleshed-out character, but it produces dialogue that closely replicates the natural patterns of speech.
*Switch Between Speakers to Resemble Conversations
Think about your conversations in real life. Most of them are pretty balanced. Both people have–or at least, should have–equal say. While writing your dialogue, switch back and forth between characters often. Even if you want to centre the dialogue around one character, brief interludes from the other characters in the conversation can make your dialogue sound more natural.
Generally, the shorter the sentences, the better your dialogue will flow. You typically want to avoid long monologues in your writing unless, of course, the plot calls for it. The speed with which you switch between speakers can also do wonders for the pacing of your story.
The Don’ts Of Writing Realistic Dialogue
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re currently guilty of doing any of these don’ts. Lots of writers do it. Here are three practices you generally want to avoid to achieve realistic dialogue in your writing.
*Don’t Use Excessive Dialogue Tags
Your readers are smart. Chances are, your readers can figure out who the speaker is without a tag after every line. Unless your characters sound exactly the same, which is an entirely different don’t, there is no need for an excessive amount of dialogue tags in your writing.
While dialogue tags are a crucial part of dialogue writing, too much of them can ruin the flow of the conversation. Once the characters participating in the exchange are identified, you can skip the dialogue tags to avoid disrupting the conversation in your reader’s mind.
*Don’t Spoon Feed Information
Yes, dialogue is a great way to deliver exposition. However, it’s good practice to avoid blatantly telling your readers facts about the character through conversation. For example, if you’re writing a conversation between friends, physical trait descriptions would probably never come up in an actual dialogue between real friends. In this case, you should avoid using dialogue to reveal the physical traits of your characters.
“Readers generally want to be shown, not told by your writing,” advises Nina Wolf, a business writer at Academized. “The last thing you want to do as a writer is insulting your reader’s intelligence by lazily handing them exposition through dialogue often.”
*Don’t Use Long Paragraphs
“Readers take in dialogue one thought at a time. A frequent mistake of beginners is to combine thoughts, which may be suitable for other forms of writing but not for dialogue. Another mistake is speechifying. Three sentences at a time is tops, yet many beginners write speeches that go on and on.” – Sol Stein
Long blocks of dialogue text are not exactly the most natural. If your character is speaking passionately and verbosely about something, there are still ways to break up lengthy dialogue runs.
One way is to include some narration in between the dialogue. While your character speaks, describe the actions in the scene. Perhaps, the character is pacing back and forth or chewing their lips. You can also describe their hands as they speak or the events happening in the background. Another strategy is to have another character briefly interject. They could express their agreement or ask questions.
Are You Ready to Revise Your Dialogue?
Writing excellent dialogue that closely resembles authentic patterns of speech is a challenging task. It won’t be easy at first, or maybe, ever. It will take a lot of hard work, practice, and revision to craft good, natural dialogue as a writer. But nothing worth having ever comes easy. Right?
Bio: Christina Lee
Christina Lee is an editor and writer at Academized. Her lifelong love affair with words started at a young age and is still going strong.
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