Top 8 Tips on How to Write Dialogue

Here are some quick tips on how to write dialogue well.

1. Give each of your characters a different voice. Try to hear their voices in your head as you're writing what they say.

2. Know when to use dialogue. If it's an important conversation, your readers will want to "hear" it for themselves. When your main character confesses to her boss that she’s in love with him, readers will want to hear that.

3. Know when to summarize. If a character talks for an hour about his golf technique, you can't include the whole speech in your story. Instead, you can summarize: "John went on for an hour about his golf technique."

4. Mix dialogue and summary. You can mix a few lines of dialogue into a dialogue summary to give readers the flavor of your character's voice. "'Been working on my swing,' John said, launching into an hour-long discourse on his golf technique."

5. Use indirection. Often, people don't express what's on their mind directly. Instead, they hint at it in other ways. If John is attracted to Marsha, he might not come out and say to her, "I'm attracted to you." Instead, he might become boastful around her, or steer the conversation around to whether she's married. The best dialogue often has two levels, what characters are saying on the surface, and what they really mean.

6. Use silences. Pauses in a conversation can be as expressive as what is said out loud. During a pause, you can describe the characters' body language, what they're doing (e.g., taking a sip of coffee), or what's happening around them.

7. Trim the fat. Real-life conversation contains a lot of polite filler, a lot of false starts, a lot of repetition. If you include all of this in your written dialogue, it can get boring. Instead, you can include just enough to give the flavor of real life, then cut the rest.

8. Don't pile on distracting dialogue tags. Expressive dialogue tags such as, "he whined," "she commanded," or "he queried," draw attention to themselves. The old standbys, "said," "told," and "asked" are less noticeable, letting readers focus on your characters' words.

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