Writing Dialogue

Let me begin by saying that there is no right way to writing dialogue.  This strictly relies on the skill and preference of a writer.  Maybe that is why writing dialogue is one of the things that writers avoid.  It’s the fear of not getting it correct and possibly making characters sound silly, boring or making them all sound the same.  Writing dialogue is really not that difficult if you just take the plunge.  It is allowing those inventive thoughts to begin flowing.

There are some general techniques that all writers follow but the real skill to writing dialogue is to get into your character’s head and begin writing from that perspective.  It is taking on that character role.  That is really what it boils down to.  It can be a natural process but the trick is to not be afraid of incorporating dialogue into your writing because that is what moves your story forward – or it should anyway.  Many writers spend endless hours researching the various techniques of writing dialogue and well they should; however, in the end it really comes down to accessing that inner voice in your head and seeing whether it’s effective.

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It works the same way as when reading a fictional book.  You get pulled into the story by becoming one with that character and experiencing everything the person does.  It is because the writer has skillfully incorporated dialogue to draw you into the scenes.  The same will apply to your writing.  Developing dialogue that draws a reader into a story is simply writing from that inner voice as you become that character.

What does dialogue do for a story?  It can do many things.  It should engage the reader and move the story forward by providing an emotional connection to characters.  Dialogue can be used to introduce a character or set the mood of a story or provide a setting.  Dialogue should create conflict, tension or possibly suspense.  Dialogue should be used to speed up scenes and it should move the story forward.  In addition, dialogue can be used to communicate the theme of your story or novel.  If it isn’t doing any of these then it most likely is not necessary.

Addressing the Fear of Writing Dialogue

Many writers are afraid of dialogue; therefore, they tend to avoid it.  It is because they are afraid of writing brainless dialogue, making characters sound alike, not being sure where dialogue should be used in a story or making the characters sound so formal that the reader can’t connect.  They are all understandable and legitimate fears but to write a good literary piece a writer has to address these reservations.

  • Characters sounding stupid – If you never get the dialogue written you will never find out whether a character truly sounds stupid or if it’s just your perception.  It is important to see the dialogue in writing so that you can begin analyzing the areas that need more work.  It may take several reiterations; however, that is what writing is about – revisions and more revisions.  Don’t let that intimidate you.  It’s just part of the craft.  Keep in mind that even in normal conversations we are not always perfect and we make mistakes.  Sometimes we say things that sound witty and other times we say things that we know should not have been said.  The same applies to your characters and their dialogue.  It is writing about your characters with that same intent and accessing that inner voice of your character.  If the dialogue doesn’t fit your character then change it or create a new antagonist or a different scene.  Try reading your dialogues out loud to other people or to other writers for feedback.
  • Making your characters sound different – The trick to this is getting inside your character’s head and truly becoming your character.  It is looking at life from your character’s perspective.  In everyday life we take on different roles as we go through the day.  We take on the role of mother, father, child, coworker, boss, subordinate, friend or family member, etc.  Depending on what hat we are wearing we adjust our conversations and attitudes accordingly.  The same applies to writing dialogue for a character.  It is simply taking on that role and looking at the world through that particular lens at that moment in time.  If possible, give your characters different careers and set them apart by age or give them a different social status; anything that will make a distinction from other people in your story.  This can help to making your characters all sound different.
  • Not sure if dialogue should be used – The first rule of thumb is that if dialogue doesn’t move the story forward then it probably isn’t necessary.  It is important to understand and know where your characters and story are heading.  You can’t move the story forward if you don’t understand the true intention of your characters as you write the scenes.
  • Making your characters sound too formal – Recognizing that your dialogue is too formal is the first step to changing it.  When a writer’s dialogue is too formal, it is usually because the writer is trying too hard and not letting the dialogue flow from that inner voice of the character.  In other words, the writer hasn’t let go of his/her inhibitions and hence the dialogue has become stifled and formal.  Remember to get into your character’s head and voice.  Think like your character.

There are many techniques to help a writer make his characters exciting but nothing does it better than action and dialogue.  Dialogue is the thing that will make your characters come alive and will create excitement for your reader.

Although there are several techniques to making dialogue sound believable, it is important that the writer understand what type of story he/she is writing.  Once a writer determines the type of story to be written, the next step is deciding on the scenes and dialogue to carry the story forward?  It is getting into a character’s head to bring the reader into the world that the writer has created.

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