How To Write Better Dialogue

Every writer struggles with different parts of writing.

Some writers struggle writing prose. Their sentences are stilted and disjointed and not fun to read.

Other writers find it hard to create believable characters.

Still, some can’t create a storyline to save their lives.

But, I would say that the number one thing that people struggle with is dialogue.

And, my evidence is completely anecdotal. I’m only going from what I’ve heard from other writers, and what I’ve seen in other writers’ work.

There are best selling authors that can’t write good dialogue so it’s nothing to be ashamed about.

If you want to write some decent speaking parts for your characters here are some things to avoid.

All Your Characters Sound The Same

This is a pretty common mistake.

You write what your character says and something seems off. Sometimes it’s hard to notice in your own writing, but it will stick when you read someone else’s work.

But people speak with different diction, vocabulary, and even different amounts. You need to change up how different characters speak. You want them to sound like people. People are all different and their experiences, where they’re from, and what they do inform how they speak.

If you want them not to sound written then you need to write them differently.

Your Characters Don’t Speak They Tell

I see this most often if someone is writing a non fiction and they want to include snippets of a conversation.

But they just use the conversation to tell the reader what they want to say. It comes off stilted and awkward because the reader can tell that either the speaker is just dumping information or just reinforcing a point the writer wants the make. It never sounds natural. It will pull the reader completely out of the piece and it makes it hard to finish the story or the article.

You Overwrite

Overwriting is another common problem especially with new writers. People want to make their dialogue sparkle and they want everything to sound sharp and witty, but often it just makes the story sound unnatural.

Plus, if every character is saying the wittiest thing possible then you run into the first problem I described with everyone sounding the same.

Some writers can pull it off. Aaron Sorkin is perhaps the best dialogue writer and all of his characters sound smarter than everyone. But, they still have distinct personalities.

Now that I’ve covered some things not to do. I think it’s time to say what to do.

Listen, A Lot

Get a sense of how people speak. What makes certain sound different? Why do people use the words they choose?

Anytime you hear a good exchange write it down somewhere and use it as a model for a conversation you want to write.

Let It Flow

When you’ve gotten used to writing dialogue it gets easier and easier to let the conversation flow naturally. Make sure that your responses match the statements your characters are saying. Don’t force them to say anything.

Don’t be afraid to let the characters dictate the conversations. If you’re writing these characters then you should know them well enough to know what to say. Let the characters takes some twists and turns. I wouldn’t let a character go on too big a tangent but the more they talk the more the reader gets to know them.

Now, this is my best trick. I should really be charging for this.

Have Two Characters Want to Talk Something And Never Let Them Bring It Up

People rarely just say exactly what they mean. People talk around the subject and reference things but they don’t just blurt out all their thoughts and feelings.

So the best way I’ve found to write a good scene is to not let the characters talk about the one thing they really want to talk about.

If they love each other, let them flirt but never let them express their love until the right time. If they hate each other never let them say why. Just let it come out in their words. Let them be passive aggressive or petulant or even mean. But if the reader doesn’t know why they dislike each other it creates subtext and makes the dialogue far more interesting.

To illustrate this point you can check out this story:

Dialogue is like a dance.

You want some give and take. Have one character lead and then let the other character take over. It should flow. Their should be a rhythm to it. In fact, the best dialogue is almost musical.

If you try these tips it might help make it sound a little more natural.

Some other dialogue heavy stories.

Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories.

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