6 Mistakes in Writing Dialogue

Here are some common mistakes in writing dialogue -- and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Dialogue that doesn't sound natural.

People don't normally talk the way that authors write. But bad dialogue sometimes sounds more like written language than something the character would actually say.

Watch out for dialogue that...

- sounds excessively polished or poetic

- expresses the author's thoughts and perspective, instead of the character's!

Mistake #2: Dialogue that sounds TOO natural.

In real life, conversations conversation contain a lot of filler and repetition. People hem and haw and take a long time to get to the point.

If you include too much of that stuff in your dialogue, you risk seriously boring your reader.

The key is to include just enough to make it feel authentic.

Mistake #3: Formatting problems.

A lot of beginning writers don't know how to format or punctuate their dialogue. The result can be confusing and hard to read.

For example, most of the time, it's customary to start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes. This helps the reader to keep track of who's speaking.

Mistake #4: Summarizing when you should use dialogue.

Let's say that for a hundred pages of your novel, your character has been secretly in love with her boss. Finally, she confronts him and confesses her love. If you only summarize that conversation instead of showing it, readers will be disappointed. They'll want to hear your character's actual words and see the boss's reaction.

Mistake #5: Using dialogue when you should summarize.

Imagine that your character's boring uncle spends an hour describing the features of his new lawnmower. Or let's say your character has to tell her uncle a long story that she has has spent the past twelve pages telling to her aunt.

If you show these conversations word-for-word, your reader will be bored. You might use a few lines of dialogue to give readers the flavor, and then summarize the rest.

Mistake #6: Characters who all speak alike.

When dialogue's done well, each of the main characters will have a unique way of talking.

Different characters use different kinds of sentences and vocabulary. They might have special slang or expressions they like to use. They speak in different tones: arrogant or shy or flirtatious or nervous or bossy, etc.

The reader "hears" these differences as individual voices.

Our online course Mastering Dialogue will show you how to design unique voices for your characters.

two birds communicating, representing dialogue

Writing Dialogue - Next Steps

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