When I was in grade five, I had a Language Arts assignment that required writing a short story with no dialogue at all. I remember that a lot of my fellow classmates struggled with this assignment. I was in heaven.
To say I hate writing dialogue would be a bit of an overstatement, but I’m just not very good at it and I try to avoid it at all costs, throwing it into my writing when I feel like I must. And it shows. Dialogue continues to be my Waterloo. It’s not that I hate dialogue in all forms. Reading other people’s dialogue is fine. I just don’t like to write my own. But if you’re writing a novel, dialogue is an important part of the narrative process. If you must write it, then you should be doing it well.
- Watch dialogue tags. This is the ‘said,’ ‘shouted,’ and ‘whispered’ part of your dialogue, and it just shouldn’t be too flowery. It’s really not that important how a character says something, and so your reader shouldn’t get all tied up in ‘giggled manically,’ ‘furiously chanted,’ and ‘spat like a watermelon seed.’ Avoid metaphors to describe speech. Be simple. And don’t feel you must have a tag next to every single line of dialogue. It stops flow and makes the conversation seem choppy.
- Keep it short and snappy. In real life, people generally don’t wander around giving speeches. You would not stand and listen to someone lecture at you for half an hour. Don’t force your characters to do it. Also, when you see such a speech in writing, you can assume that what is going on here is a big ol’ chunk of exposition. Please don’t force your character to explain what’s going on. This violates all the ‘show, don’t tell’ rules in the book.
- Avoid crazy accents. Speech pattern indicators are okay. You can alert your audience to a particular accent or speech impediment in an early dialogue tag or a (very small) piece of exposition. Include a one or two markers in the actual dialogue, and be consistent – use ha’ instead of have whenever your Scottish character is speaking for example. But for the love. Don’t try to imitate every accent marker that exists when your characters are talking. That. Is. The. Worst. And it makes reading very hard, and acts as a barrier between your audience and the character.
What are some things you keep in mind when you’re writing dialogue?
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