Write Better Dialogue: Three Easy Ways

No dialogue for Cranky Cat!

For novel writers, dialogue is one of the most important tools in the writer’s box. Get it right and the reader will follow you anywhere. Get it wrong and the same reader may go missing.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some ideas for writing dialogue:

  • Leave Out What We Rarely Say. You can safely omit from your dialogue things we rarely say in real life. This includes calling a character by his proper name (EX: “Mary, can you come in here?” “Why, Robert, I wouldn’t mind at all.”); Information each character already knows (EX: When do you have to go to work at the Hynix Semiconductor Manufacturing plant in Eugene, Oregon?”); and even the beginnings of sentences (EX: Instead of “Are you going to the store?” edit to read, “You going to the store?” or even “Going to the store?”
  • Keep the Suspense. Also known as MICROTENSION. Avoid always giving expected answers to lines of dialogue. If your character asks a question of the POV character, put something unexpected in the spoken answer or at least in the POV character’s head. (EX: “Like my new dress?” He glanced away. His wife was overspending again and he’d make sure she returned the loud Hawaiian print to the store.) Another way to increase tension through dialogue is to use misdirection or sarcasm. (EX: “Like my new dress?” “Does it matter? Everything I say is wrong.”) or (EX: “Like my new dress?” He clenched his teeth. “Like my holey socks?”)
  • Mix in Action, Inner Thought and/or Emotions. Instead of over relying on attributions such as “said,” use the story to help the reader understand who’s speaking as well as move the story forward. By inserting sentences or beats of action, inner thoughts of the POV character or his emotions, we get a more complete experience than if these things are kept separate. (EX: John slammed down his wallet. “Why can’t you stick to a budget?” He was sure she had not one ounce of self-control and it made his stomach lurch to think of it.)

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Write Better Dialogue: Three Easy Ways

  1. Love your three tips here. When I’m editing I use AIA = Action instead of Attribution. It’s SO much stronger. #1 Gives you reader a whole ‘nother mental picture, even with something as simple as Sue smiled. Of course, It’s just as important to mix up their structure (long ones, short ones, fat ones with introspection and skinny ones that are fragment) as you mix your sentence structure #2 delete nothing fluff words from your manuscript. Really? …,” Henry asked? Is there a question mark? then the reader KNOWS he ‘asked’, right : )

    And we DO talk in fragments! And a wife greeting her husband home from work would never include his company name and that it’s a 30 minute drive in her dialogue! They both KNOW that : ) tee hee hee You and I are on the same page, Linda! What state are you in anyway?

    • Sicily,
      Yes! You must consider your character’s background & environs. Although I’d caution against writing hard-to-read dialect unless you’re a master. 🙂 Thanks for commenting! ~Linda

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