A Short Guide To Dialogue

Every novel requires dialogue, and wouldn’t be as exciting to read without it. Used well, it can bring tension and action to a story, as well as helping to let readers know what different characters are thinking and feeling. Getting it right can be pretty tricky, so here’s a few tips to help you out.

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It’s never perfect

…so don’t try to make it so. People never have a conversation where every question is answered and every word is heard and reacted to; it just doesn’t happen. Often, people will answer a question with another question, or they will complete ignore it and talk about something else. Not doing this and instead making everything perfect is unrealistic and won’t sit well with your readers. I feel that this is especially important when it comes to police interviews. The interviewee will most definitely not answer every question, and will often change the subject to talk about something or someone else. They might even just ask for a drink.

Think of people’s feelings

The undertones of text are just as important, if not more important, than what is being explicitly said. You want your character to let her friend now she loves her. That’s great, we all love a good romantic confession. However, you don’t have to outright say that. Do you really think a girl is going to just stand there and say ‘hey, I love you’ to her best friend? No. It’s much more difficult, and you have to capture that. Instead she’d probably go on about the little things that made her fall in love, and from these we can guess, and so can her friend, what she’s getting at.

People exaggerate

People exaggerate things, so even if your reader knows that the tiger your protagonist fought was just out of its mother’s womb, the protagonist is much more likely to describe it to their friends as the biggest tiger they’ve ever seen. It may seem silly including little things like this in your work, but it’s something that will make your dialogue more realistic and will bring your characters to life. And your exaggerations don’t have to be this wild. It could be something as simple as elaborating on how happy or angry someone was to them.

Don’t overuse punctuation!

See? Seriously, just don’t. The more you use an exclamation mark, the less impact it has when it really matters. And anyway, I doubt your characters really do shout that much, so why make it look like they are? The only punctuation marks that should show up really often are full stops, commas and question marks. Everything else, save for special occasions. Similarly, make sure you use ellipses (…) and hyphens (-) correctly. Use ellipses to show where someone is trailing off at the end of a sentence, and use a hyphen to show that they have been interrupted.

Don’t cram

There’s a lot of information crucial to your story that you want to get across during speech, we get that, but is it realistic that your character would sit and say all of this to someone in one monologue? If not, find another way to get the information across, whether it’s two different people taking it in turns telling bits or just that part of it is written on paper for people to see instead. Make sure you only get the essentials across in the actual dialogue, and tell us the rest in a different way.

 

If you follow these five simple tips, your dialogue could improve massively. The main thing though is to read back through any dialogue you’ve written with a friend. If anything feels unnatural to you, or it sounds forced or unlikely, change it so it feels right. Dialogue can be a very useful tool to a writer if used correctly, so make sure you get it spot on.

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