Writing Better Dialogue
4 Ways to improve your writing skills
Dialogue is a major element in all stories, and it can be the hardest thing to get right. Natural speech patterns are hard to reproduce in writing. People don’t speak in grammatically correct full sentences, characters written that way would sound stiff and unbelievable. However, using fragments or other techniques to mimic natural speech can make it hard for readers to understand. Good dialogue needs to find a balance between the two while also serving the story in the best way possible. Here are couple of tips to help improve your dialogue writing.
Know your characters
No two people speak the same way, which means your characters shouldn’t sound the same either. Each character has their own back story, and these elements will likely affect the way they use language. Where they grew up, their family heritage, social status, education, profession, etc. are all things that should be taken into consideration.
When developing your characters try to imagine how their personality and characteristics come out in their speech. A shy character’s not likely to be long winded but an overconfident one might. It also changes depending on who they are speaking to. A character wouldn’t speak the same with a friend as they would their boss. If you know your characters, this will come more naturally.
Listen to how your dialogue sounds
You’ve likely heard the advice to read your own writing aloud because it works. Especially with dialogue, it’s easier to identify issues than when just looking at the page. Hearing it can help you find spots where it’s too stiff, awkward or just doesn’t flow well. If you have a hard time reading it so will your readers.
A useful tactic for large chunks of dialogue would be to act out the different characters speaking, either yourself or with the help of a friend. Another option is to record yourself and play it back. In Walter Mosley’s, This Year You Write Your Novel*, he recommends recording a reading of your entire novel.
Read plays and scripts
It can be incredibly helpful to read these dialogue heavy texts. While they do include some stage direction, ultimately the story is told using dialogue. Study how the dialogue is used as a tool to convey information, move the story forward, reveal character personalities, foreshadow future events, create conflict, etc.
It can also help to see on paper how characters are differentiated by their speech. Look at each the way each character uses language—the words they use, the sentence structure and length-and pay close attention to how it changes for each character.
Eavesdrop in public
Pay close attention to the conversations and even brief interactions that happen in public. Listen to cashiers interacting with customers, neighbors greeting each other, coworkers chatting on an elevator, etc. If you have pen and paper handy, which all writers should, take notes and refer back to them. If you travel often, make sure to note the differences in speech in different places. The more you study how people speak naturally the easier it will be to write natural sounding dialogue.
About the Creator
Alexis M. Collazo
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. An avid reader, writer and multimedia creator. Relocated to Pennsylvania where she is currently focused on writing, crafting and leading workshops online. Visit www.alexismcollazo.com for more info.
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