Make Your Dialogue Sing

Dialogue in a novel could easily be either the key to falling in love with a character or the reason a reader closes the book. Some write dialogue naturally well, while others struggle.
Writing Tip for Today: Getting your dialogue to “sing” may take a lot of practice, but here are some easy ways to cut that practice time:

  • Try Using Contractions. Even in historical fiction, well-placed contractions appeal to the reader’s ear. Don’t be afraid to use them–they brighten the pace and help the reader submerge into your created world. If you’re writing Regency, you do want to be correct to the era. But I think a few contractions will do more good than harm.
  • Try Using Fragments. One of the most common dialogue mistakes I see is a character with too many words to speak. As we all have heard, after about three sentences of dialogue, it becomes a speech. And we can’t have characters speechifying. Use the Rule of Three, sure. But try some sentence fragments too. And if you are using dialogue to sneak in information, a fragment will almost always sound more genuine. EX: “Hi, old friend. Are you headed off to the Motorola Third Division Component Section to work?” No old friend would say something he already knows! Better: “Hi old friend. How’s it going down at Components?”
  • Try Using Misdirection. In dialogue, the writer can create tension just by what a character says–or DOESN’T say. So if one character asks a question, instead of a simple answer, try to write a riposte that challenges, makes the character appear secretive, coy or dishonest, or an answer that raises more questions. This is especially true of yes/no questions. A classic example: Character 1: “Are you going to the concert?” Character 2: “Who wants to know?” You can begin to make your dialogue sing if you build tension into each line your character speaks.

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.

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