Monday, February 13, 2012

Wearing My Writer’s Hat: Writing Effective Dialogue


Whenever I teach a workshop on writing, the two most common questions I’m asked are, “How do you write interesting and effective narrative” and “How do you get your characters to use dialogue that sounds normal and yet moves the story forward?” I’m going to address the second question in this blog by sharing my top ten dialogue tips that I believe will help strengthen your story.

1. Use dialogue to break up long narrative passages.

2. Incorporate dialogue so that it creates, and then heightens the drama/conflict.

3. Use dialogue to make your characters more human, more realistic. Remember narrative writing can describe a character, but dialogue makes them real.

4. Remember that dialogue is not conversation. Conversation can be meaningless, full of redundancies and irrelevant information. Dialogue is important and must move your story forward.

5. If the pacing seems slow, use dialogue to jump-start your scene. Dialogue moves the plot forward.

6. Use tags to help the reader identify who is speaking. Remember, however, to use them sparingly and effectively.

7. If your character is a policeman, a cowboy, an English aristocrat – make certain they speak in the appropriate manner. Police have specific terms for actions and items, so do cowboys, and so do aristocrats. Make certain you know them.

8. Use dialect sparingly. A little goes a long way.

9. Be careful in your choice of words. Don’t try to impress the reader – they will only feel intimidated and jerked from the story if they have to continually consult the dictionary.

10. Avoid dialogue that is too stiff or too formal. Most people use contractions in their speech, your characters should, too.

For those of you who are writers, do you use any of these more than others? Are there any I forgot? As readers, are there any books you feel have outstanding examples of dialogue?

7 comments:

Marcelle Dubé said...

All good advice, Julie. Especially the part about making sure the dialogue matches the character. Nothing jars you out of a story more than a character using a word you *know* he doesn't understand, let alone know how to pronounce.

Julie Moffett said...

Thanks, Marcelle! I agree wholeheartedly with that!

Maureen A. Miller said...

Excellent advice, Julie. I need to attend your next workshop! Let me know.

I used to immerse myself in a sea of description. Then one day I woke up and wanted to hear what my characters had to say. Now they don't shut up. :)

Wendy Soliman said...

I think about the things that put me off when I'm reading and try to avoid making the same mistakes. Not easy, especially as everyone has different peeves!

Clare London said...

Great advice, and I literally used #5 last night in a manuscript I'm editing!

Do other people read their dialogue aloud? I often do, to make sure it reflects the character as he is in my head :).

Elise Warner said...

Excellent Post, Julie. I began by writing plays and tend to use dialogue a lot. Do have to remember the character's voice --so important. Know it wastes paper but I do have to print out the copy when I think the story is almost ready to fly.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Great reminders, Julie! (Especially as I work on my edits - LOL)

Thanks!