Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

Well-written, effective dialogue is not real conversation, but it should sound like it.

A Bad Example

“Hey, Jane. How are you doing?” Bob said.

“Pretty good,” Jane said. “And you?”

“Just fine.”

“Are you on your lunch break?”

“Sure. Are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

What’s wrong with my example? Four things.

  • It has zero conflict.
  •  It’s boring (just basic chit-chat).
  • It doesn’t reveal anything about the characters’ personalities and/or interests.
  •  It doesn’t drive the story forward.

A Few Tips

  • Every line of dialogue must have a purpose. If it doesn’t contribute to characterization and advance the plot, delete it and/or revise it till it does.
  • A character’s dialogue must fit his/her personality, education, and emotions. A few examples: (a) If a character is uneducated, give him/her a limited vocabulary. Let the character use simple one and two-syllable words as well as bad grammar. (b) If a character is a narcissist, show it in the way he/she talks. Let that character talk about himself/herself a lot, brag, put down others, etc. In other words, talk and act like a narcissist. (c) If a character is well educated, give him/her a strong vocabulary and let him/her use a few long, multisyllabic words, at least occasionally.
  • Characters don’t always have to respond to another character. Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words.
  • Use contractions. People often use contractions when they talk, so these are a great device to make our characters’ dialogue sound natural.
  • Know your characters. The more we know our characters, their personalities and what motivates them, the easier it becomes to write their dialogue. Even so, writing it effectively is still hard. Getting to know our characters takes time and work. Writing character sketches and their biographies is a great help.
  • Train yourself to listen. Wherever you go, watch people and listen to how they talk. Television and movies are great ways to learn. After all, movie and television scripts are mostly written in dialogue. Spend some time analyzing the actors’ words, how what they say conveys their characters’ emotions and actions.
  • Study other writers’ dialogue. Learn what makes it work, or why it doesn’t work.

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As one can see, lots of work goes into writing effective dialogue, but the time and effort spent learning is worth it. I hope some of my tips have proved useful in your writing. Till next time!

4 thoughts on “Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

  1. Dialogue can reveal so much. You’ve provided some really good tips here, Jack. I think the hardest part is making sure each character’s speech stays true to who that person is. To do that, I must have a good grasp on my characters. Thanks for these suggestions.


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