Being an author sounds like a pretty awesome deal, right? Pick a simple idea, type here, type there, and act like it all happened by magic.
Some of you are probably tempted to embark on this path to becoming a published superstar. And you know what? You can do it. You’ve been writing for a while, you have a bucket full of ideas, and you can write a killer prose. Structure, descriptions, and character growth are a piece of cake to you. But what about dialogue? How secure are you in your dialogue-writing skills?
Dialogue, as we all know, is an essential part of any novel. But it’s a lot more than just words. More than having your characters interact with each other. And it’s way more difficult than we realize. Writing realistic dialogue can be powerful if done well. It can help flesh out your characters and move your story along, but it can also ruin your story if done poorly.
But fear not! Here are seven tips to keep your dialogue in check:
1- Don’t write you.
Sure, write your story your way, infuse it with pieces of you, but avoid falling into the trap of making all your characters sound like you.
2- Use contractions.
Dialogue should sound real, so take into account that most people use contractions in conversation. For example: “She’s eating,” rather than, “She is eating.” “They’re getting pizza,” rather than, “They are getting pizza.” “I’m hungry,” rather than, “I am hungry.” Which coincidentally, I am hungry—what’d you think inspired these examples?
3- Don’t go wild with your tags.
He said and she said are just fine. Deviating too much beyond these will only draw attention to the tags. And don’t worry about sounding repetitive; most readers glide right over them, I say.
4- Avoid ‘info-dumping’ in dialogue.
It’s easy to get carried away and use dialogue as a way of filling backstory. Like having a character tell another something they would obviously know already? Yeah, that’s a no-no.
5- Keep it moving.
Good dialogue should help the story move forward. Make sure every passage of dialogue is either doing this or showing us something new about the character.
6- Slang and colloquialism are not your friends.
No one says not to use them, but do it sparingly (same goes for curse words). Nothing is more distracting than having to put a book down to Google what “yonder” means. (Over there.)
7- Ask yourself these questions:
*Is it clear who is saying what in each scene?
*Does your dialogue read well out aloud?
*Does your dialogue sound appropriate for the age of each character?
*Have you broken up long passages with actions or other details that convey thoughts and/or expressions?
*Did you use confrontation and contradictions between characters to avoid your story feeling flat?
*How cute do I look today? (What? Confidence is good for your writing!)
Don’t forget, you can find dialogue anywhere in real life. All you have to do is listen to conversations and apply it to your work. So . . . you know, get to it! 😉
S. Katherine Anthony
5 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Dialogue in Check”
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Good post, thanks! But, of course…I have a question! 😉
I agree with your #2 – dialogue should sound real…and that means using contractions. But why do so many How-to/Top Tips/Learn the Basics/I Can Help YOU-type sites, books, and blogs say NOT to use contractions? I don’t know anyone who speaks without using them – why should we write this way? Isn’t there a standard?
Okay, I’m done! 😉
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Right??!!! I don’t understand that either! They go from saying, “dialogue should sound realistic” but “do not use contractions” . . . it’s so contradicting!
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