As You Know, Bob: Tips for Writing Better Dialogue

wait-1052487_1920I’m not good at a lot of things. Math, for one. Keeping the bathroom closet uncluttered, for another. Killing bugs also comes to mind. But, I feel like if there’s one thing I’m pretty good at, it’s writing dialogue. I love writing dialogue, but it takes practice to figure it out.

I think it’s something that some people really struggle with. So how do I do it? Here are six tips that might help.


Dialogue Tags

Said will do, for the most part. Sure, throw in the occasional whispered or shouted, but keep them sparse. Said is a word that our reader brains skip over for the most part, and this gives the dialogue a good flow. You also don’t have to modify said with adverbs if you’re showing us instead of telling us. For example, instead of “she said happily,” try, “she said, her red-tinted lips lifting into a smile.”

Also, don’t skip the dialogue tags. I don’t mean you have to include them in every line, but if it’s unclear who is saying a line, tag it!

What’s Going On?

In one of my many rejection letters, I was told that I “have a great balance of dialogue and exposition,” and I think this is super-important. Your characters aren’t having this conversation in a bubble. There is something going on around them. If they’re in a restaurant, they’ll be interrupted by waiters, there will be a screaming baby at the next table, maybe someone spills a drink. What about your speaker? Does she have her hands on the table? Is she sipping her water? Gliding her finger along the rim of the glass? Think about when you’re talking to someone. Do you just sit there and stare at each other and talk? Not usually. Usually you fidget, you walk around, you brush your hair back, you bite your lip. And even if you don’t, there’s still something going on in the background.

Use the scene to break up the dialogue. It doesn’t have to be between every single line, but it keeps the reader engaged and grounded in the action.

As You Know, Bob

Do not use dialogue to tell the reader something the characters already know. Don’t have one character say to another, “As you know, she’s leaving for college tomorrow.” It’s forced and just not how people talk. Find another way to do it. For example, “Her bags are packed,” she says, standing at the sink with her back to me, the yellow gloves submerged in the suds. Angela has been ready to leave for college since the moment she graduated. See the difference? It has more information, more characterization, and is more natural. We don’t need all the details right up front, either. Let the reader wonder for a while and trust her to work it out.

Choose Wisely

Readers don’t need every word of every conversation. We don’t need the hello’s and the goodbye’s and the how are you’s. We want the substantive conversation, the words that are going to move the story forward. Along this same line, we don’t need all the um’s and oh’s either. While dialogue should be realistic, it shouldn’t be verbatim. It’s there to work for you, the writer. Every word should serve a purpose.

Formatting

Every new speaker gets a new line. Even if there’s a whole paragraph of exposition between speakers, s/he still gets a new line!

Also, punctuation. I’m not going to explain the commas and the periods here, but here’s a helpful link.

Read & Listen

There are three things you can do. Read. Read voraciously and learn from other authors. Listen. Listen to conversations around you. What do people do, sound like, feel? What are their natural speech patterns? Then, read your own dialogue aloud. Where do you pause? Where do you need a break? A tag? A description? If you read it aloud and sound like a robot, you’ve got a problem. The good thing is, it’s a problem you can fix!


“So,” she said, “was that helpful?”

I sure hope so! 😉

Come back on Wednesday for #WriterWednesday featuring a debut romance author. So you don’t forget, follow me on Twitter for updates.

Until then, <3 Cassidy

2 Responses to “As You Know, Bob: Tips for Writing Better Dialogue

  • These are in fact wonderful ideas in about blogging. You have touched some nice factors here.
    Any way keep up wrinting.

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