Dos and Don’ts for Writing Strong Dialogue
Dialogue is the backbone of our scenes and develops our characters, but can be tricky to get right. Let’s look at some dos and don’ts and general tips for writing strong dialogue.
- Write dialogue with purpose. Your dialogue should go towards building characterization, furthering the plot, building suspense and tension, etc. If your dialogue isn’t fulfilling one of those jobs, cut it.
- Replace some tags with actions. More on tags later.
- Make sure each character is identifiable by what they say and how they say it. Your reader should be able to identify who is speaking without being told.
- Use subtext. It’s not always what we say but what lies beneath it that matters. This also goes towards building the mood of the scene.
- Add body language to your words. More on this next week.
- Avoid info dumps. They’re boring to the reader, slow down your action, kill your tension, and insert the author into the story, drawing the readers out of it. Weave it in throughout the scene and don’t use dialogue to give the reader information.
- Avoid dialogue tags. Dialogue tags are the said and ask tags we use to attribute who was speaking. You should only have enough tags to clue the reader in to who is talking. Omit the rest and avoid using tags other than said and asked. Guffawed, chuckled, grumbled, cajoled, etc. are distracting and the mark of an amateur.
- Avoid monologues. Readers want to skim past huge blocks of text and they mire down your action. Try to break up the text and if you absolutely have to use a monologue, vary your sentence length and structure.
- Avoid umms, yeahs, small talk, and repetitive phrases. Keep your dialogue concise to avoid boring the reader.
- Avoid slang. It dates you and your work and is distracting.
So now that you know some dos and don’ts, let’s look at a few things that can help you improve your dialogue writing skill. First, read your dialogue out loud. This will help you identify chunky and awkward phrases and help it flow more naturally. Eavesdrop on other people to pick up natural turns of phrases and the rhythm of talking. Finally, read plays to understand how dialogue should move your action along and reveal more about your characters. Practice writing scenes using only dialogue.
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Comment below and happy writing.