Writing Decent Dialogue

Writing dialogue feels like it should be easy. After all, we all have conversations.  The problems can be quickly apparent though when we start and everything feels rather wooden and forced. I have so many instances where I have read back a bunch of dialogue I have written and it’s painful in how inhuman it feels.  It’s wooden and robotic and unnatural. 

What helped me to construct natural, flowing dialogue was to imagine I was having the conversation, as opposed to trying to impose the conversation on my character. 

I don’t think there are hard and fast rules to writing dialogue, but I would offer these pointers to help make your dialogue feel more convincing:

  • Don’t try so hard:  It might seem obvious, but when you’re with friends conversation just happens. Try to imagine your characters as in a comfortable situation and see where the conversation goes. 
  • Don’t explain the plot through dialogue:  Exposition through dialogue is a prime method of forcing your plot along in a very clunky way. For example:

“How you doing, mate?”

“Not great, to be honest. As you know, Jane split up with me last week and I’m still finding it really hard. I knew being suspicious of her and John wasn’t paranoia too as she’s now seeing him.” 

This is not how people talk to each other. We go into conversations aware of the context so don’t need to explain any background. A more natural example would be:

“How you doing mate?”

“Oh, amazing,” I said.

“You saw it on Facebook then?”

“I bloody told you.”

“John promised me nothing was happening between them,” said Joe. 

“Yeah, and Jane promised me till death do us part.”

  • Less is more: It’s a contentious point but I tend to find minimising descriptions after dialogue actually makes your writing stronger. If you write it right then you shouldn’t need to end a sentence with phrases like ‘she said angrily,’ or ‘he exclaimed boldly.’ Let your words speak for themselves and give your reader credit to know the tone. 
  • Dialogue can finish open-ended: You don’t have to conclude conversations between characters all neatly. As in life, sometimes conversations can be open ended and they find a conclusion another time. 

Finally, relax. Adding speech marks to our words can create unconscious pressure and make our dialogue stunted. Let your characters engage naturally and enjoy where their dialogue goes. 

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