Dialogue Moves Your Story

Dialogue is a verbal action. When a character speaks, they are actively moving the story forward. When the language, rhythm, and voice is clear for each character, your dialogue not only flows in your story you’ll minimize the need for repetitive dialogue tags.

Preparing for Dialogue

The best way to write distinctive dialogue is to know your character.

  1. Research. Interview people who embody your character. Or use the time-tested someone you know as the speech model. A female biochemist and a male who breeds Bengal cats will have not just a different vocabulary, but speech rhythms and pet phrases. Listen to people talking in cafes, buses, trains, at the airport or any public venue. You don’t have to visit a crack house to learn the language. Watch characters in movies, television series, and YouTube to grab dialogue details
  2. Cast Your Characters. When you cast a real person — actor, acquaintance — as your character, listen to how they use their voice to speak. Borrow phrases, intonation, and body movement to create dialogue details for your characters.

Strike a Balance

There are no hard-and-fast rules about when and when not to blend dialogue, action, and narrative. To weave them together well is to find your story’s rhythm. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself about your story, especially in the rewrite stage, that can help you know which elements are most effective for a particular scene, and which might be better used elsewhere.

  • Is it time to give the reader some background on the characters, so they’re more sympathetic? (Use narrative, dialogue, or a combination of the two.)
  • Do I have too many dialogue scenes in a row? (Use action or narrative.)
  • Are my characters constantly confiding in others about things they should only be pondering in their minds? (Use narrative.)
  • Likewise, are my characters alone in their heads when my characters in conversation would be more effective and lively? (Use dialogue.)
  • Is my story top-heavy in any way at all-too much dialogue, too much narrative or too much action? (Insert more of the elements that are missing.)
  • Are my characters providing too many background details as they’re talking to each other? (Use narrative.)

Troubleshoot Your Dialogue

Once you’ve written the dialogue, check for natural speech and moving the story forward. Here are some actions to take to fine-tune your dialogue passages.

  • Cut small talk
  • Keep your dialogue brief and impactful
  • Give each character a unique voice
  • Add world-appropriate slang
  • Be consistent with the characters’ voices
  • Appropriate to the character listening
  • Avoid long dialogue paragraphs
  • Cut out greetings
  • Demonstrate the character’s personality

Good Dialogue Stems from Character Motivation and Feelings

Know your character. Their goals and feelings. Get them to take the action of speaking to work toward their goal. When you approach dialogue as action based on a character’s current emotional state and goal, you’ll find dialogue flows.

Mystery author Zara Altair writes clues for writers who want to write a great mystery. http://bit.ly/KillerMystery

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