10 Tips on Writing Effective Dialogue


1. Become an Eavesdropper

Listen carefully to the way people REALLY talk. They tend to talk in sentence fragments. They interrupt others. They repeat themselves. Try to get your dialogue to reflect authentic speech, but be careful not to become dull (real speech is OFTEN dull!)

2. Train Yourself to Notice

Observe the ways that people give away their social, economic and ethnic backgrounds by the way they talk. Use this knowledge when you create dialogue.

3. Don't Overdo the Dialect

Readers very quickly become tired of trying to 'interpret' speech that is represented phonetically, or with apostrophes everywhere to reflect dropped letters. The trick is to choose one or two words/phrases that will give a taste of what the person is like to others. A little bit goes a long way.

4. Try Recording People's Conversations

(Be careful with this!You may not be popular if you do it without permission and others find out - or if you use it unwisely. Be smart and get permission.) Listen carefully when you play it back. Often you'll hear inflections and habits that you miss when you're absorbed in a conversation first-hand.

5. Write First, Edit Later

Don't be tempted to edit too much as you write - it's better to let it flow, then give yourself some distance from the work and go back and edit later.

6. Read the Dialogue Out Loud

This is an excellent test for dialogue. Better still, get someone else to read your words. It's even easier that way to hear sentences that don't ring true, or that sound too stilted. Edit the work right away, while the problems are fresh in your mind.

7. Learn to Punctuate Dialogue Effectively

Good punctuation can make a huge difference to the effect of what you write. When you read the work out loud, decide whether the pauses are long or short (does the speaker just 'run on'; does the dialogue require a comma, or should it be a semi-colon or a colon?) Don't forget that when people trail off uncertainly, you represent this with an ellipsis (row of dots); when they are interrupted, you show it with a dash.

8. Make Sure Every Character Doesn't Sound the Same

Some people speak in clear, well-formed sentences with perfect grammar; others make constant grammatical errors and stumble over words. Some people are bright and lively and their words and tone reflect this; others are slow and thoughtful. Dialogue should reflect all of these things. Most of all, make sure that each character is not just a reflection of YOU!

9. Use Quotation Marks for Speech, not for Thoughts

Your reader can become confused if you use quotation marks for both speech and thoughts. Thoughts are expressed in other ways - usually with a tag like 'he thought' or by using italics if they are expressed in the third person. (But that's a whole other tipsheet...)

10. Don't "Sandwich" Direct Speech Between Actions

When you write dialogue, make sure that the viewpoint character's thoughts, actions and reactions are woven into the dialogue. Don't have half a page of direct speech with the occasional 'she said' and 'he said' to indicate who is speaking, then have a paragraph to describe the viewpoint character's thoughts or actions, then another half page of direct speech. Dialogue should be a smooth blend of speech, actions, thoughts and emotions.

(c) copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/


RELATED ARTICLES
To Outline Or Not To Outline
Ah, the age-old writer's debate--to outline or not to outline?Outlines have proven quite effective for a lot of writers, and many of the famous stories we know and love--such as Star Wars--were outlined before they were fleshed out into a living, breathing story. (Well, metaphorically living and breathing, anyway.
Whats in a Name? Giving Birth to your Characters
So you've got your plot outlined, a title lined up and the research is done. You're ready to start writing your novel.
Writers: Dr. Phil Goes Fishing with Oprah in His Tackle Box, Shouldn't You?
Dr. Phil's Life Strategies, #1 New York Times Bestseller catches us on page one.
Interviewing an Author: Dont Be Left Speechless
Joyce Carol Oates. Langston Hughes.
Learn to Write Like a Pro
Many writers write for the experience. Others dream of having a number one best seller.
How Long is a Chapter?
How long should your chapters be?I can't resist..
Why Should You Use Worksheets For Proofreading?
Proofreading worksheets are a great tool to help individuals open their eyes to the mistakes that are commonly made. These are used to help teach a person how to spot mistakes in copy.
The Writer and the Web
If your dream is to get published, the chance is before you.The web has opened the portals of opportunity to all aspiring writers, freelance writers, established writersactually to all writers.
Rejection - Have the Right Perspective and Don't Quit
If you're getting rejections from your submissions, please don't quit yet until you read the following article. I want you to get a perspective on rejection.
Top Seven Ways to Write your Print or eBook Fast
Want to write your book? But, need a blueprint on why it will help your profits and brand your business? Need to know each step so you can delegate it to an assistant or do it yourself in just an hour a day for less than a month?Each chapter within my eBook "Write Your Print or Other Short Book-Fast!" can help fiction and non-fiction authors.Ch.
Overcoming Writers Block
Do you suffer from writer's block? Is there a pending project you are putting off because you lack the inspiration to even get it started? You certainly are not alone. At various times you will go through extended periods of energetic writing as well as lengthy dry spells.
Are You a Freelance Writer? - Then You Need a Website
As a freelance writer, it is important to present yourself to your clients in a highly effective way. One of the most effective methods that freelancers use is a website.
6 Ways to Toot Your Own Writing Horn
You know you've got writing talent. Others enjoy your work and you've even sold a few things.
Publish Your Novel on the First Try
Rejection. This scary word plagues virtually every writer this side of John Grisham.
Common Writing Mistakes - Are These Holding You Back From Writing Success?
During the years that I've been teaching writing and participating in writers' critique sessions, I've seen some real talent. There are writers who produce such sparkling prose that you know publication is only a matter of time.
Starting a Freelance Writing Career (or Thoughts About Taking the Plunge)
Nike's ad has taken on new meaning for me of late; "Just do it!" runs through my mind like a mantra. Although my dreams have nothing to do with athletic shoes and little to do with athletics (unless you count the long list of ideas I have developed which revolve around my sons and their activities), I have spent a long time avoiding the one thing I've always wanted to do - write.
Creative Writing Tips - Have You Established Your Main Character At The Start?
In the beginning of your story you have to grab your readers' interest and sustain it till the end. Our hook is our character.
Top 7 Writers Sites for 2005
If you dream of turning your book into a best seller, or you're looking to become a best selling author in your field, then these sites promise to help you do just that.Whether you are a reader or a writer, you'll find something here that will help you build your writing career, or lead you to a great book.
The Spectre Hound
And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring,and its wild bark thrill'd around,His eyes had the glow of the fires below,'twas the form of the spectre houndOne of the most chilling omens of death in English folklore is the large, spectral demon dog called Black Shuck. A death omen comes to collect souls and if you have the misfortune to see Black Shuck - expect death to come within a year.
To Tell If You Are A Literary Snob
"I don't know if I should put 'writer' on my business card," I murmured."Then don't," my wife said in her infinite wisdom.