7 tips to write better dialogue
I don’t normally cover basic writing techniques and grammar topics. I am an author business coach. I work as a business strategist for authors to teach them how to make money with their writing. Although sometimes I get some specific questions about basic writing techniques so I thought I would go over the basics of writing dialogue.
Your dialogue can either make or break your book.
The purpose of dialogue:
- Helps develop your characters
- Moves the plot along
- Establishes the mood
Dialogue is NOT for:
- Filling word counts
- Dumping backstory
- Creating needless small talk
- Describing the setting in obsessive detail
Well-written dialogue can push your reader on to the next chapter or it can cause them to close the book forever. Too many authors want to fill in the backstory with their dialogue and all this does is bore the reader with a bunch of useless details. Most of the time the reader will close the book and never finish it. To make matters worse, they won’t become a superfan and buy all of your subsequent books.
How do you use dialogue to entice your readers into buying your next book or your whole new series?
Here are 7 tips to write better dialogue.
First of all, keep it brief. Is the message you’re trying to convey need dialogue? Or, can you write it without it? No one likes to read three pages of dialogue.
Avoid small talk. If you think about it how many times do you talk for hours on end about the weather, the color of the person’s eyes, or your hairstyle? Now I know some girls will talk about their new haircut, but in general does your character need to ramble on for four pages about their new outfit? Or are the details you are including important to you but not necessarily important to the reader?
Forget The fluff! While it’s fun to include all of the details as an author you must remember the story must entice your reader. Your reader’s opinion is more important than your own. That is a hard pill to swallow for many new authors I meet. They want to write what they love and they don’t care what the reader thinks. That is a fine concept to have if you’re just writing as a hobby, but if you want to make an income as a writer you’re going to have to write what the reader wants to read.
Give each one of your characters a specific voice. Everyone speaks differently and so should your characters. Contrary to what your eighth-grade English teacher taught you every line of your dialogue does not need to be grammatically correct. I know that goes against the grain for all of those grammar Nazis out there but you must think about your reader.
Is there a specific word or phrase they use often? Do they use slang excessively? Make sure your characters have their own unique style of speaking and you’ll find your readers are more interested in what they have to say. The important thing is to be consistent. If you have one character who uses slang at the beginning of the book make sure this character is still using slang by the end of it.
Show don’t tell. I know you’re probably tired of hearing this, but don’t give away everything in your dialogue. No one in life says exactly what they feel and everything that they feel at every moment in time. Is your character spewing out too much information? Is your dialogue too in-depth? Don’t give away the plotline with every piece of dialogue or you’ll lose the reader’s interest.
Minimize dialogue tags. Although your English teacher will cringe I encourage you to take out the dialogue tags whenever possible. If you read some of the best-sellers of the day you will find that they are very clear on who is speaking but they do not use he said, she said, etc. Can you go and take out the dialogue tags and the paragraphs still make sense? If so take them out.
Read your dialogue out loud. If you take the time to read your dialogue out loud you will recognize the parts of speech that are clumsy. You will recognize overused words and you will get tired of saying he said, she said, etc. Use actions and body language in place of dialogue tags whenever possible.
Let me give you an example. If a woman is in the library and she leans across the table and presses her lips towards the person’s ear, we know that she is going to whisper. You do not need to close out her dialogue with “she whispered.”
Here’s an example from Joel Quinn’s book F*ck the Details: Fewer Words. Sharper Stories. (If you don’t let the title offend you, he has a lot of good writing advice in this book.)
I’m sure you do, she said sarcastically.
She rolled her eyes I’m sure you do
The second example shows us that she is speaking sarcastically by her body language and the author does not have to use the words she said sarcastically. Look through your writing and find ways that you can rewrite these dialogue tags or remove them.
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Keep in mind that every line of dialogue must serve a purpose. If it does not move the story forward develop your character or establish the mood then perhaps it needs to be removed.
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