At their most basic, stories are made up of two things – description and dialogue. What, how, and when your characters speak can do a lot for your writing. Dialogue can say something about the character, drive the story, unlock a twist, be part of how all your characters interact – In other words, it’s super important. Here are five tips on how to write good dialogue.
1) Don’t use it to “info dump”
Remember Basil Exposition from Austin Powers? He’d only pop up to dump in a bunch of information about the story. That was his entire purpose. It was funny – but it was satire. You’re going to need to be a bit more subtle when it comes to your story. Dialogue is a great way to impart a lot of background information about your world and story. But it can quite easily fall become “telling” rather than “showing”. If someone (or more than one person) just hurls a bunch of information out in one big wodge, bringing your story to a grinding halt as they do so, your tale will suffer. It’s not going to feel natural or believable – even more so when the info dumps are between people who should really know all the information already. That doesn’t mean you can’t use dialogue to provide crucial knowledge to your reader, but you need to do it in a natural way and not all at once. Introducing a character into a new place can provide the perfect opportunity for explanation. But again, don’t shoe-horn a character in just for that reason.
2) Avoid coping how people actually speak
When you next have a conversation – or happen to overhear one (don’t worry we all do a bit of eavesdropping) – imagine what it would be like written down. Chances are it would be a mess. People would be talking over each other, repeating themselves, struggling to find the right word, and there would be ums and ahhs and errs all over the place. If you wrote exactly as people talk, your book would be very long and, dare I say it, kind of dull and frustrating. You should write realistically, but you can also take a bit of artistic license in your dialogue. Don’t worry, your reader will be expecting it.
3) Be cautious of going all-in on accents
Some authors have written entire books, not just dialogue, with an accent or two, so it can work. But it’s very tricky to get right. More often than not, if you write dialogue with a full-on accent, you’ll throw your reader out of the story as they attempt to figure out what your characters actually trying to say. It’s usually a better bet to add a sprinkling of words and phrases to indicate the character’s accent rather than going to whole hog.
4) Use “said”
Many writers delve into their thesaurus to find all sorts of words to describe the way dialogue is being delivered. But there’s nothing wrong with good old-fashioned “said”. Or even leaving off description entirely. The words themselves, the context, and the action around them should be doing the hard work to imply how the words are spoken. So most of the time you can leave it out or stick to “said”. Just make sure it’s clear who’s speaking!
5) Mix action with dialogue
There are times when dialogue will be the majority of a scene and you only need minimal action. But most of the time, people don’t simply talk. Even if they’re sitting in a talking setup, like a one to on in a coffee shop, people still move. They may drink or eat, fiddle with their hair, gesture for emphasis, or get something out of a bag. In many cases, mixing your dialogue with action is necessary to keep the momentum of your story going. Take some time to visualise the conversation in your head and paint the picture so your reader can see it too.