Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quick tips for Writing Dialogue

Number 1 tip of the day: Avoid dead dialogue--as much as we want to make dialogue realistic, we don't want to bore the reader with standard niceties such as, 'Hi, nice to meet you', 'How are you?', 'Goodbye'. Make sure what your character says has purpose.

Dialogue should do one, preferably more, of these things:
  • Tell us more about the character
  • Push the plot forward
  • Entertain us
  • Keep us engaged
  • Reveal backstory without lots of exposition
  • Deepen conflict
And remember, it's often more important how something is said rather than what is actually said.

Do you find writing dialogue easy? What are some tricks you use to write dialogue? What books have you read that have great dialogue?


And the WINNER of Tahlia Newland's giveaway is:


Congratulations, Denise


  1. Ooo! I get to comment first. Nice thing about happening to be on Facebook as you post this. :) Um, yes! I agree about the dialogue. Sometimes I STILL want to include those "goodbye" and "hello" parts though, since it feels cut off or rude not to. ;o)

  2. Awesome post, Lynda, as always!Good to be reminded of these as I fine tune the WIP.

  3. Hi Lynda! Well I got a surprise when I came by today to see what you had to say about dialogue - geek! I won Tahlia's book. So exciting.

    I've often been told my dialogue is good (well, something's gotta be eh?). I worked on it by following the flash fiction suggestion of writing whole stories in dialogue and i've done that and loved it. Some readers hate that of course. But what can be more sparkly than fast-moving dialogue which shows th e story?

    I retreat from the real world and go to my imaginary world and let the characters speak...


  4. Good advice, Lynda. What are your thoughts on dialogue tags? I know that many say we should always, always use said, but for instance, when a character asks a question, it just makes sense for the tag to read, "she asked." Just wondering . . .
    Pam at

  5. I like to read the dialogue out loud, that usually exposes the weird parts!

  6. I love writing dialogue. Sometimes the conversations in my mind are so fluid, I struggle to keep up with them. :)

    Great advice!

  7. Reading dialogue outloud is the best way to make sure it sounds natural. I prefer writing dialogue over other parts. And yes, it's a great way to get to know characters & cover backstory simultaneously.

  8. Dialogue isn't my strong suit. I think I did better with the second book - added more humor. Found that two characters bantering back and forth was fun to write!

  9. Carol, Ah yes, but there are other ways of saying hi and bye that adds to the story or the character.

    Bryce, thanks

    Denise, congrats!! I haven't written an entire story in dialogue before. It's a great exercise. I should give it a go.

    Pam, yep, I had a post on dialogue tags back in July. Said and asked are fine to use because they are 'invisible' to the reader. SOmetimes tags are necessary so we know who is speaking. You can check it out here: How to Use Dialogue Tags

    Jessie, yes reading out loud is often under-rated.

    Carrie, brilliant!

    Nancy, yes, exactly! I enjoy dialogue as well. I think I find it the easiest to write.

    Alex, you are such a tease. I'm sooooo looking forward to reading your next book.

  10. I love translating dialogues since they are the easiest :))) But I've noticed that most writers don't use a lot of dialogues, and if they do they almost never cover more than a page.

  11. Huge congrats to L'Aussie!!! I love writing dialogue - I wish I could just write dialogue - it's the extraneous bits I'm not very good at! Take care

  12. Great tips! I love writing dialogue, especially when the characters are really quirky.

  13. I love writing dialogue. It's one of my favorite parts of writing. :)

  14. Congratulations to the winner! And thanks for pointing out some stuff on dialog. It's good to keep this in mind when I do my own writing.

  15. Good tips. The best dialogue should be eavesdrop worthy. :)

  16. Dialogue is hard. For me, I just want it to be true to the characters. If it rings honest and true, then it often will do most, if not all, of those things you mentioned.

  17. The dialogue in my first drafts is always full of useless bits of conversation! Thankfully they all get caught and killed in revisions.

    Great tips, Lynda.

  18. Dezzy, It's good to break up dialogue. Often my first drafts are chock full of dialogue then I pull it back a bit.

    Old Kitty, dialogue is fun to write.

    Tonja, yes! Quirky characters make for fun dialogue.

    Emily, same.

    Michael, hope it helps.

    Luanne, haha I love it. I'll have to remember that one.

    McKenzie, yes, making dialogue ring true isn't always easy.

    Jennifer, gotta love those first drafts. Mine are the same.

  19. Oh yes, a reminder I needed. Thank you :-)

  20. I usually find writing dialogue easy. However, it's been a bit of trial for me lately. No idea why. But! My most ultimate favorite go-to book for this important part of fiction writing is "Dialogue" by Lewis Turco. The author uses a foil character to express the different types of dialogue and its uses. Really fun, yet educational read.

  21. Great points on dialogue:) I've found that writing two characters as though they weren't listening to the other often makes neat dialogue, i.e. if you asks a question, make sure the other character doesn't answer it directly. Oddly enough it sounds more realistic on the page.

  22. I love writing dialogue. It helps me find my characters' voices.

    Great tip about replacing exposition with dialogue.

    My tip: Don't have people use one another's name very often. We rarely do it in real life.

  23. I think I do pretty well at writing dialog. What helps me is to rehearse it as though it were a movie scene and I'm acting it out. If it sounds natural to speak without sounding too boring I think I've gotten it down right.

    A Faraway View

  24. The speakers must logically respond to each other, too. Dialogue can be tricky. Good tips.

  25. super tip! And great uses for dialogue. It also helps with making backstory interesting. And I've found reading it aloud helps w/getting the rhythm right. :o) <3

  26. Great tips! I find that reading it aloud helps, too. And sometimes just reading it over and over with each revision. It might take a few passes to get it where it should be!

  27. Sarah, we all need reminders at some time.

    Alyssia, I'll have to find that book and have a read.

    Mark, also great tips!

    Theresa, yes! I recently read a book where the characters kept using each other's names. It was so distracting.

    Lee, yes, role playing works really well for dialogue.

    Mary, yep, it can be tricky

    Leigh, yes! rhythms in dialogue is just as important as rhythms in prose.

  28. Peggy, you snuck in there ;) yes, we can't expect to get dialogue right on the first draft. Many edits, much tweaking, and lots of reading out loud.

  29. Oddly enough I used to find dialogue very difficult. Now I keep drafting talking heads scenes that need everything else filled in later!

  30. Oh, me last, I think. One day I want to make the first comment! :D

    At writing school dialogue was my strong point; everything else I had to work on. One thing I can share is that when you're at an emotional point in the dialogue/conversation don't start bulking it up with unnecessary descriptions and observations. Just stick with the dialogue, I mean. This way you don't lose the tension or atmosphere you're trying to convey.

  31. Super post, Lynda. I love writing dialogue. It gets me into my characters heads. The more I write, the better I write, because I learn about the people from the inside out.

    Excellent post!!!!! *waving*

  32. Hello, Lynda R Young.

    Awe inspiring your works...

    Thank you for your love and sincerity.
    Have a good day.

    The traditional celebration, with kimono infants.

    Japanese colored leaves, in heartwarming space.

    The prayer for all peace.

    From Japan, ruma ❀

  33. I like your dialogue tips a lot, Lynda. Thanks for sharing them.

  34. Dialog has always been easy for me, and fun. I enjoy being able to get a character's character across by how he/she speaks with others. I don't know that I have any tricks it just seems to flow out of me.

    As for favorite books with dialog, I can't think of one at the moment.

  35. In order to write fun, realistic and ensnaring dialogue, you have to walk through the world with a tape recorder in your ear, every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

    And *don't* watch TV.

  36. I love writing dialogue. The only problem I have is adding variety to tags, but I iron that out when I edit.

    Great list, Lynda.

  37. Real life dialogue would be sooooo broing to read! Great tips :)

    Congrats to Denise! :)

  38. I find dialogue tough -- my top tips are pretty old-fashioned: I read it out loud, and I make sure different characters have distinctive turns of phrase and so on.

  39. Awesome post, Lynda. I love witty dialogue in a story.

    Congrats to Denise!

  40. Deniz, hehe yeah, I do that for first drafts as well.

    Joanne, hehe, well, you aren't last ;) And excellent tip!

    Robyn, yes, dialogue is a great way to get to know our characters.

    Ruma, thanks

    Rachna, thanks

    Bish, yes, dialogue is fun!

    Suze, the amount of cliches on tv is horrifying.

    Medeia, I wouldn't worry too much about variety in tags. As long as you keep them to a minimum, it's all good.

    Jemi, yes! I totally agree.

    Amie, reading out loud is so important. Works every time.

    Romance, thanks :)

  41. I've written and self published one book. Aside from writing poetry, I've never had the inspiration/ interest in sitting down and writing books other than the one.

    Writing poetry is like second nature for me- book writing puts me in an entirely different realm.

    It takes more effort; time; thought; etc. However, if the vision is there; if I'm inspired to do a thing and it comes from my heart then it is comfortable ,challenging - even though it takes time and effort; so I'm certain I could write more books given those states of mind!

    Experience was my inspiration to write my first book. Reflection, memory, and recall, were some of the things that helped me to bring it together.


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