Many fiction writers complain that they have trouble writing great dialogue. But writing outstanding dialogue is not so difficult as it seems. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing dialogue for your story:
• Do not use dialogue to force backstory. While one purpose of dialogue is to give information about your characters, including too much information will make your dialogue seem artificial. Here is an example of using dialogue to force backstory:
“I can’t believe it’s been six years since we met at the gym while you were going through your divorce and had all those financial problems suddenly fall upon you.”
“Yeah. It happened at the same time that you lost your job and were out of work for three months, wondering how you were going to pay the mortgage.”
The dialogue above sounds forced and contrived. People don’t naturally talk this way. Instead of forcing back story into your dialogue, include it a little at a time. For example:
“I can’t believe it’s been six years since we met.”
“Yeah, a lot has happened since then, but I think we’ve both grown because of it.”
Then add a little more later, or include the backstory information in an internal monologue.
• While good dialogue sounds realistic, it does not include everything people normally say in a conversation. For example, good dialogue eliminates the small talk unless it is absolutely necessary. This means that if you have a character answering the phone, you don’t have to include “Hello, how are you?” “I’m fine, thank you.” Just get right into the conversation.
• Good dialogue is enhanced by the use of beats. A beat is a gesture or action that helps the reader “see” the character who is speaking. Examples of dialogue with and without a beat follow below:
Without a beat:
“How dare you say that!” Jennifer retorted. She was angry.
With a beat:
“How dare you say that!” Jennifer’s stomach roiled as she raised a fist toward him. (With a beat)
In the first example, I simply used a tag (retorted) and told the reader what Jennifer was feeling. In the second example, I used a beat in which I showed the reader what Jennifer was feeling.
These are only a few techniques you can use to bring your dialogue to life. What are some techniques you have used successfully?
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