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  • Writer's pictureMegan DiMaria

Keys to writing effective dialogue, part 3

Two weeks ago, we discussed dialogue in context, with internal thoughts, and with visceral reactions. Last week, we talked about using body language and mannerisms to enhance dialogue and avoiding dialogue ping-pong. Today, we go over some simple tips to help make your dialogue more convincing.

Dialogue must be convincing. As long as you can write good dialogue, your chances of being published will increase because poor dialogue will sink your story.

Some tips:

  • Poor dialogue is unnatural, stilted, or too wordy. Use informal word choices, also known as kitchen English.

  • Dialogue has to be compressed, focused, and informal. Two easy tricks to doing this are to use contractions and sentence fragments in your dialogue.

  • Don’t move to your point too directly because thought patterns aren’t directly followed.

  • Don’t do an information dump through dialogue: “Edward, I know you’re sensitive about people questioning your motives because of that incident that happened to you in grade school when the principal misunderstood why you were leaving the campus early."

  • Vocabulary and patterns of speech show where characters come from and what socio-economic circles they inhabit. Here's a good example from Jen Turano's latest novel, Diamond in the Rough. Our heroine, Poppy, just had a disastrous spin around the dance floor: Poppy wrinkled her nose. "Perhaps one of those young ladies is currently lingering on the sidelines and would be more than happy to take over for me, something I would appreciate since I'm woefully inept at the intricacies of this particular dance." I bet you can hear that Poppy is a wealthy debutant from the Gilded Age.

  • Good dialogue must develop and establish characters. Characters need to speak differently from one another. Having generic dialogue confuses your reader, everyone sounds the same. Give your characters a verbal tic. “Ya, know.” Have one character refer to dad as Dad and another call him Pops.

  • Characters may have different vocabularies with different people. A polished lawyer will speak one way in court, but when he goes home to the bayou, he’d speak differently.

  • Dialogue describes conflict, setting, and characters. Rather than writing: Angela was the kind of woman you couldn’t trust, you can have one of your characters say, “Look out for Angela. That girl will stab you in the back and then accuse you of carrying a concealed weapon.”

  • Dialogue can depict change. Instead of using narrative to say: The sun had set and the small room was dim, have one of your characters say, “Michael, flip on the light, I can’t see this document.”

  • What is not said in dialogue is just as important as what is said. You can maneuver a sentence to portray the elephant in the room.

Thanks for hanging in there through three lessons on dialogue. We'll conclude next week with a lesson on using dialogue to control the pace of your story plus a few more good tips.

Write on, friends!


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