Writing Hacks: Making Characters Talk

Posted on Jun 06, 2017

Don’t Ditch Dialogue.

Dialogue is important in any story. It can do many things, from exposing characters to moving plots. It’s also a great way for your readers to remain hooked to the story.

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However, there are those who struggle with dialogue simply because they forget that it’s speech. Remember that something you write does not always translate well into spoken language. Here are some tips and tricks to help you get to grips with dialogue writing.

  1. Know How to Write Dialogue

    Dialogue is written in a format different from narration. Unlike narration, dialogue moves into the next paragraph as soon as a different character speaks. Moreover, since dialogue is technically spoken, it’s not bound to the same rules as narration. Read on to find out more.

  2. Tag Your Dialogue

    Dialogue tagging is adding “said [insert character name]” to the end of a quote. Tagging your dialogue lets the reader know which character says the quote and how it is said. Sometimes you can add adjectives or other actions. Sometimes you can use other words, such as “whispered” and “shouted.” Don’t be afraid to use the word “said” too much. Your dialogue tagging doesn’t have to use your entire vocabulary.

  3. Variety Is Key

    Use different dialogue styles.

     “You usually use this style of dialogue,” said one character.

     “Don’t be afraid to cut off the dialogue,” said another character,

     “but remember to indicate continuation.”

     “However,” added this character, “use styles with intention. Don’t vary your styles just for the sake of   doing it.”

     “They’re all correct,” the final character simply agreed.

    Using various dialogue styles keeps your story from sounding too monotonous. It also makes your characters more interesting and gives your readers room to breathe in between sentences.

  4. Skip the Pleasantries

    Take a look at this dialogue:

    “James!” called Aggie.

     “Aggie!” James replied with surprise. “It’s lovely to see you.”

     “How have you been?”

     “Okay, I guess.” James shrugged. “You?”

     Aggie blushed. “Very well, thanks.”

    Back-and-forth dialogue, such as pleasantries exchanged by two or more people, can be tedious and confusing not only to write but also to read. Your readers already know the social etiquette of people greeting each other. There’s no need for it to drag. Skip a huge chunk of unnecessary dialogue by doing any of the following:

    1. Summarize the lengthy exchange.

      “James, glad to see you! I hope you’re doing well,” said Aggie.

    2.  “Doing fine, thanks. You look good too,” James replied.

    3. Use a single sentence.

      James and Aggie exchanged pleasantries as soon as they saw each other.

    4. Sidestep into business.

      “James!” called Aggie. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

       “I’m glad too,” replied James. “You look pretty tonight. Is anyone here with you?”

  5. Make Your Characters Distinctive

    Keep in mind that your characters are all different people and don’t talk the same. Consider several aspects about your character such as their age, educational attainment, personality, occupation, hobbies, and interests. These are things that can help you determine a character’s speech pattern and nuances. You can even give a character their own catchphrase.

  6. Keep It Real

    Tying it with the previous tip, don’t be afraid to use vernacular speech when writing dialogue, especially in a novel set in the modern times. By contrast, if you’re setting your novel sometime in history, do your research. Keep your dialogue realistic by adding fillers (um, yeah), dialect words, and slang words.

  7. Use Your Dialogue for Other Things

    Other than as a way for your characters to express themselves, use your dialogue to expose plot, to discreetly explain the premises of your universe, and to execute plot twists. Narrative paragraphs that are too long and explain too much tend to put off the reader.

  8. Silence Is Golden

    Nonverbal dialogue matters just as much as verbal dialogue. Make sure that your character’s body language matches what they’re saying. Even better, use silence as dialogue. Give meaning to a character’s silence by letting your characters know what the silence of your character communicates.

  9. Show, Don’t Tell

    This is the oldest trick in the book. Use the five senses to convey information. The dialogue shouldn’t be your character describing every detail the way your narration would. Tell the scene from their point of view.

  10. Always Write with Caution

    Don’t overdo any of the tips and tricks mentioned above. If you overdo your vernaculars, fillers, and variety, your dialogue will sound staged rather than realistic.


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