(Craft) He said, She said: Writing Good Dialogue

dialOne of the key ways we fiction writers develop our characters is through dialogue. So, what makes for good dialogue in fiction writing? Here are a few tips:

1) Avoid using dialogue as an “info dump”.  In other words, don’t use dialogue to give the reader information that you can give him otherwise.  Here is an example of using dialogue as an info dump. Ron is talking to Dan.

  Rob“My brother, with whom you went to high school and who is still your best friend, just got engaged.”

For Rob to include this information in his conversation with Dan is ridiculous.  Dan knows he went to high school with Rob’s brother, and Dan knows he is Rob’s brother’s best friend.  This example of dialogue has as its sole purpose to give the reader the information that Dan already knows. In other words, this is an example of dialogue being used as an information dump.

2) Use beats when writing dialogue to maximize characterization. A beat is a sentence expressing a character’s physical response to a word or action. This physical response, in turn, tells the reader something more about the character.  Here is an example of a beat (typed in bold font):

Rob:  “My brother just got engaged to Lori.”

Dan:  “No way!”  Dan’s jaw clenched at the memory of his former fiancée. 

3) Write the way people speak. This means writing in fragments when necessary.  We do not always speak in complete sentences. Neither should your characters.  For example:

Rob:  “Sorry, Dan. Forgot you and Lori used to be an item.”

Dan: “Small stuff. Time to move on.”
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