Monday, June 21, 2010

7 Ways to Improve Dialogue

1. Keep to the point. Remove redundancies and everyday chatter. For example:
      “Hi, how are you?”
      “I’m good thanks. How are you?”
Readers don’t care about these pleasantries. They don’t have a lot of time to sift through all the inconsequential babble. It only gives them a reason to put down your book.

2. Make it Show, not tell. Dialogue is a great vehicle to reveal backstory and keeps the plot moving, but used incorrectly, it can come off as a mere devise and make the characters sound stilted. By using it to show the story in a natural way, the readers can become more involved and engaged.

3. Keep it interesting. The careful use of dialect and slang will help to bring the characters alive and will add an element of realism. Just be careful not to over-do it.

4. Avoid speech that is too realistic. Often conversations between people are clipped and repetitive. People also add lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. In the quest for realism it’s not necessary to include these elements into written dialogue. It only makes it slow and confusing to read.

5. Remove clichés. It’s just as important to avoid clichés in dialogue as it is to avoid in description and plot. Don’t get lazy.

6. Don’t forget the spaces between the lines. A lot can be revealed in a character through the words they don’t say. A silence or an action can speak louder than words.

7. Avoid large blocks of pure dialogue. If all you give your reader is a wall of chatter, the reader can quickly lose connection with the story. Break it up with action and description. It doesn’t have to be a lot of action or a wad of description. We are after variety to add flavour and interest. It will also give you greater control on the pace of your story.

Can you think of other ways to improve dialogue? What are your weaknesses when writing dialogue?


  1. This is GREAT! On Tuesday my blog is doing a writers resource (midweek links) for dialogue, can I use this for my blog?


  2. Hi Erinn, it's wonderful to meet you. And yes, you may use this for your writers resource on your blog :)

  3. What I might add is to make each person's voice true to them. Make it so your reader could read a page of dialogue without tags and know who was speaking.

  4. Good call, Helen. Too many tags are distracting and slows the story to a grind. And recognisable character voices brings them more alive.

  5. I find Tim (Winton) a bit too sparse, but agree with Helen that if possible cut down on tags, but I also use them to break up phrases where pauses are wanted. Also really valuable as you say to impart information lightly and at the same time give the speaker's impression.
    Thanks for hour support!

  6. Yes, the tags make good "pauses" in speech too, but I cry a little when I see too many ;)

  7. Great tips Lynda! I think using contractions help and also, when a character asks a question, the other character doesn't always need to answer. Evasion and subtext are great tools!
    I saw you in my followers and wanted to pop by and say hi. :-)

  8. Thanks for popping by and leaving a comment. And yes, contraditions also help dialogue. It's not about the words so much, but about the interaction of the characters.

  9. Some great tips in your post and in the comments too.
    I am working hard at eliminating cliches. Not always easy, because cliches tell it like it is but the challenge to offer a well known phrase in a fresh way is always there for me.
    Dorothy :)

  10. Yep, cliches are the bane of my writing existence...

  11. I certainly needed these reminders and tips today. Thanks for the awesome post.

  12. Hi Alene, glad they were helpful :)


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