A dialogue is a conversation between two or more people in which information is exchanged and thoughts, emotions and wishes are expressed. It is one of the most credible narratives in the face of the reader, because it is produced between characters, with no middle men. However, dialogue becomes sometimes a burden for the development of the action. How is it possible then to build spontaneous dialogue that draws the reader’s attention? The following will list 10 steps to help you improve your dialogue writing.
1. Get to know your character
In order to give voice to a character it is essential to know everything there is to know about him. His personality, origin, age, education, profession, age of history in which he lives… This is information that will provide the necessary clues to understand the way he should talk. Beware, however, of dialects or speech impediments of the characters because finding pages full of badly written or hard to decipher phrases can be overwhelming for the reader.
2. Play his role
Whenever you need to use dialogue, try to put yourself in the character’s place, play their part. Do it out loud, do not shy away (this is the reason why, from many years ago, I can only write privately). If you become a performer of your own works and play them as you write, it will not only be easier to create effective dialogue but you will also discover the gestures and actions that the dialogue demands.
3. Be dynamic
Use, as a rule of thumb, short phrases; skip verbs at times, be concise, dynamic, do not lose rhythm and the dialogue will flow better. This does not mean that you cannot add longer or more complex instances of dialogue but better not make those the rule.
4. Do not explain: move forward
Do not use dialogue to explain what should already be made clear by the action. Neither use dialogue to say something already known by the characters or that has not been asked by anybody. Always consider if the phrase being said on each dialogue makes sense or if somebody might actually say it.
5. Every now and then, interrupt
A good way to give credibility to the dialogue is to provide it with rhythm through interruptions. Add breaks, questions, and comments to make the conversation more fluid.
6. Make them angry, make them doubt
Characters have to live through dialogue, show their mood, change their minds, be happy, doubtful, and get angry or suspicious. Once again, play the role and pay attention to how the character would say it, how does he feel when he says those words out loud.
7. Make it count
As any other element within the narrative, whenever there is dialogue it should be because that is the best way to tell that part of the story; because it just has to be there. So if you write dialogue, make it meaningful, to contribute to the evolution of the story, make at least one of the character’s mood change, make things happen as they talk.
8. Break it with action
Do not forget that we do not usually remain still while talking. As we speak things happen and stopping the dialogue in order to explain what is going on adds realism to the scene and helps moving it forward.
9. Do not overuse the “he said”
This kind of remark has to appear as little as possible. I wrote about this subject a while ago in a post called “the narrator in the dialogue” where I explain in more detail how to use that remark as the characters talk.
As with any narrative technique, the best way to learn is by writing and reading. Noticing how the masters do it is essential to improve our writing. Whenever you read a novel or short story and you find dialogue that works, underline it, copy it, extract it or somehow highlight it. Come back to it later and dissect it until you understand the way it works. Few things will help you more than doing this.