Dialogue in fiction serves to advance the plot and reveal information about characters, but it also brings the story to life. Many authors struggle to write dialogue that feels natural and engaging. To help with that, here are some tips for writing more effective dialogue.
Dialogue should sound like real people talking, but try to avoid filler words like “um” and “ah” and overly formal or stilted speech. Too many filler words and pauses slow your dialogue, thus slowing the pace of your narrative. Consider the setting and culture of the characters in your story, as the way people speak in a small rural town will be different than in a big city. Also, the way people speak and the slang they use will be very different in a historical piece than in a modern one.
Another important aspect of dialogue is subtext, which refers to the underlying meaning of what characters say. Subtext can add depth to a conversation, making it more interesting. For example, a character might say “I’m fine” when they’re clearly not; the subtext is that they’re hiding something.
When writing dialogue, also consider the pacing. Long monologues can be boring and slow down the narrative. Instead, break up the conversation with shorter exchanges and include nonverbal cues like body language and facial expressions to make the conversation feel more natural and engaging.
Another thing to consider is a character’s personality and motivations. Each character should have a unique voice and way of speaking. This can be achieved through the use of different filler words, patterns in grammar, and sentence structure. For example, a character with a more formal education might speak differently than a character that dropped out of high school. A scientist might think of everything in scientific terms (e.g., “clavicle” instead of “shoulder bone”).
Dialogue should serve a purpose. It should reveal information about the characters, advance the plot, and create tension. Avoid including dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the story, including long conversations about small talk. Consider picking up your conversations in medias res (Latin for “in the middle of things), eliminating lengthy greetings. Similarly, don’t be afraid to stop reporting on conversations after the important things have been discussed but before their natural conclusion.
Lastly, when editing your dialogue, read it out loud to make sure it sounds natural and believable. If it sounds forced or unrealistic when spoken, it will likely sound the same when read.
Writing dialogue is an art form in and of itself, requiring practice and attention to detail. If you keep the techniques discussed above in mind, you are bound to create engaging and believable conversations that will help reveal character, build conflict and suspense, and keep your readers invested in the story.