5 Tips for Improving Dialogue

I recently had a discussion with a fellow writer about dialogue, and decided to share the processes I use to improve authenticity within my work.

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TIPS FOR IMPROVING DIALOGUE

  1. Give your imaginary friends a voice: I’ve talked about this before, but I often allow my characters free rein to have a discussion out of context, which basically means I let them loose to talk about whatever the hell they want. Those conversations, or pages of dialogue (almost like a script) rarely see the light of day. It’s the same as practising our skills by writing a scene or short story that is dialogue only. You can ignore all the normal rules; you don’t need any kind of structure. It’s like gathering a group of imaginary friends and allowing them the freedom to play. It can be fun, and is an excellent way to get to know your characters better.
  2. Follow the beat: There is always a flow to dialogue, especially if characters have a rapport. The to and fro of conversation can be extremely entertaining for the reader. In order to maintain that flow and avoid intruding on the process, I try to keep speech (or dialogue) tags to a minimum. I do this in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s by using silence, because a lack of words can have a powerful impact. Other times I rely on descriptive beats. I like them because they actively show us a character’s personality, and quickly demonstrate emotion or action. An example would what be – He bit down on the inside of his lip. “I’m perfectly serious.” Of course there must be balance in all things. There is a danger of becoming repetitive or distracting from the dialogue itself.
  3. Sound it out: Most writers read their work aloud because it helps them to pick up on errors they might otherwise miss; an interruption of the flow, going off point, an ambiguous or telling section of narrative, etc. Reading aloud dialogue is one of the best ways to determine if the dialogue is authentic. It’s like listening to a conversation. You can detect which parts sound unnatural or forced, and you’ll definitely identify whether the words used are a true reflection of your characters. It goes back to Β point 1. If you have been practising, reading the section aloud can give you an insight into what a character is thinking or feeling
  4. Feel the scene:Β Although I practice with long chunks of dialogue, I try to avoid senseless discussion in an actual scene. It’s important to ground the conversation, to create seamless transitions. When we’re having a discussion with friends, it’s natural for our minds to wonder, to consider the topic, and relate it to our lives. It’s also natural to allow distractions to interfere, such as being in a busy coffee shop. How a character responds lets us know what kind of person they are.
  5. Sharing the spotlight: Like any strong personality, some characters like to hog all the limelight and take over the scene. Unless you’re doing this for a reason, be it for humour or to show a character trait/flaw, try to avoid giving one character the floor for too long.

What about you? How do you work on your dialogue?

Thanks for stopping by.

Mel

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35 thoughts on “5 Tips for Improving Dialogue

  1. I usually just go with the flow, so #5 becomes a problem. It’s easier when there’s only 1-3 characters in a scene, but bigger groups tend to favor the stronger personalities. Makes a little sense since you always have the big talkers and those that will only speak when they have something important to say. I’d say 3 of my 7 main characters are the listening types, which works for their personality. So, you definitely have to factor in if they’d even care if others chat away.

    1. That’s so true. One of my characters rarely speaks – he believes you should only speak if there’s something worth saying…he is not one for idle chat! It’s about balance I guess and, as you said, going with the flow. It’s one of the areas you can’t plan for πŸ™‚

      1. Very true. I try to plan the conversations, but it doesn’t really work. You need the next statement to work off the previous one, so the best one can do is have specific points that you want to bring up. Just like in a real conversation.

  2. I hear their distinct voices in my head as I write and just try to keep up πŸ˜‰ I don’t practice conversations but I don’t tend to start writing until I know my characters fairly well. They still surprise me sometimes but generally not by “how” they say things – it’s “what” they say! I love reading chapters aloud to my critique group so that I have an audience and perform the dialogue more than I would if I were just reading to myself. The feedback is always great πŸ™‚

    1. That sounds like fun – I will give it a try πŸ™‚ It will suit the actress in me! I know exactly what you mean about being shocked by the things characters say – Orion Reece likes the shock factor.

  3. Really interesting post, Mel πŸ™‚

    I definitely advocate reading dialogue aloud. It really helps to pick out clumsy wording and make things feel more natural. I also try to avoid info-dumps, where a character bombards us with information all at once in a thinly veiled attempt from the writer to give us the info we need. It’s become a bugbear when I’m reading so I try to be conscious of it in my own writing as well πŸ™‚

    1. So true. It can be frustrating when that happens – one character lecturing another on something they should already know, etc. I’m totally with you. Conversely, dialogue can be used to avoid unnecessary info-dumps if used in the right way πŸ™‚

  4. I’m rather easy going but I’ve been told I ‘do’ very convincing arguments between characters – perhaps it’s my way of letting off steam! I agree with Callum re beware of the info dump. When information needs to be ‘out there’ and there’s no other way round it I try and portray it as characters bouncing ideas around and not a ‘hey reader you need to know this’ recital.

    1. That sounds like a really good solution – I cringe when information is forced at me in such a way – it’s like handing me an unwrapped gift. It’s better to peel back those layers and discover the surprise slowly! πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for the reblog πŸ™‚ I’m totally with you on hearing my own voice, but eventually it gets easier. Another good way, if you have that option, is asking someone else to read it. Only then it’s not cringing at your own voice it’s allowing someone access to your work in the early stages that gives you pause!

  5. Writing dialogues is one of the most fun parts of writing πŸ™‚
    Using beats in place of tags is one of my favourite techniques. I find that it allows a better balance in the dialogue, it makes it less repetitive and in many ways allows the story to move even during the dialogue. Fun πŸ™‚

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