How to Write Good Dialogue

Good dialogue is what makes characters come alive. A novel can contain the most breathtaking descriptions in the world, but if the dialogue falls flat, readers will still come away from the novel feeling cheated. Well-written dialogue can convey emotion, warn of things to come, and brighten up a dark scene.

Dialogue should not be about mundane and trivial things

While it’s true that in everyday life people can carry on meaningless conversations for long periods of time, this cannot occur in a novel. Conversations have to go somewhere. If your main character is commenting that “the weather is very nice today, isn’t it?” he’d better have some ulterior motive. Maybe he just wants to find an excuse to strike up a conversation with someone he likes, maybe he’s making a sarcastic reference to something else, or maybe he’s subtly threatening another character.

It’s not just about the words you say

Dialogue isn’t just about the words you put in between the quotation marks. It’s about things like speech tags, movement, and emphasis as well. For example,

Leave me alone!” she snapped conveys a completely different picture than that of “Leave me alone,” she whispered, even though the words spoken by the character are exactly the same. A character nervously tugging at his shirt as he speaks will feel completely different from a character who is slouching against a wall and smirking while he speaks. Laying emphasis on different words can convey different meanings as well: “Stella really slapped him?” focuses on the fact that Stella slapped someone, while “Stella really slapped him?” highlights the speaker’s surprise that the slapping actually took place.

Don’t use imaginative speech tags

Speech tags are used to show who is speaking, and, occasionally, how they are speaking. It’s fine to deviate from “she said, he said” every once in a while, but using different speech tags for every sentence can end up sounding monotonous and can even distract the reader from what your characters are actually saying. When choosing speech tags, it’s important to make sure that the tag chosen is a legitimate speech tag. “He nodded”, for example, is not a good speech tag. Instead, the tag should be, “he said, nodding”.

Dialogue is often the most exciting part of a novel. Good dialogue can make your readers laugh, cry, and scream in frustration. Good dialogue is something that can make or break a novel, so it’s important to make sure that you get it right!

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