How do I write natural dialogues? — The ARC narrative | Learn the secrets of the best writers in the world. (2023)

Novels have many moving parts of different meanings, but poor, unnatural, or boring dialogue will ruin your manuscript. How can a simple written conversation carry so much weight?

The dialog is used to define yourcharacters, both for the reader and for the other characters in the novel. It's intimate and immediate in a way that resume writing can never be.

What makes dialogue bad?

How is a bad dialogue? In my experience, bad dialogue falls into two categories: very realistic and not very realistic.

How can dialogue be too realistic? Well, think about the last conversation you had. Since it is still COVID-19 time, the last conversation I had was in the supermarket:

"Hello," said the cashier.

"Hello," I murmured.

"Do you have a bonus card?" asked the cashier.

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"I need to enter my phone number," I replied.

"Okay," the cashier replied. "Do you have coupons?"

"I didn't say.

"Your total is $56.87," the teller said. "Here's your receipt. Good evening."

"You too, thanks," I said.

Can there be anything more boring? Dialog like this dies on the page, even if it's realistic. As authors we create aAspectfrom reality, not the recreation of conversations from the real world. Real conversations rarely do more than get into emotional waters. They are often clichéd, involve small talk, or are repetitive. Everyday conversations rarely convey new information. How many times have you had the same conversation with your loved ones?

in your bookHow to write powerful dialogues, writes James Scott Bell: "The dialogue is not real life speech. It is stylized speech where the writer has a purpose through the characters... What we are doing is creating something that feels real" .

The other form of bad dialogue is just as fatal to your manuscript. This form of dialogue sacrifices any claim to reality in favor of exposition or preaching. Let's review my conversation in the supermarket:

“Due to COVID, I have had to work overtime every day and I am very tired. I've been on my feet for twelve hours straight," the cashier said, her voice muffled by her mask. "At least I'm not a retailer. Everyone keeps asking for toilet paper, meat, eggs, and Lysol, but the entire store is out of those items."

"I'm sorry," I said. “But I revere him as an essential worker who has to personally work to keep our city of 650,000 running. This pandemic is a disaster. The United States, where we live, has had the worst response to this problem in the world. ... Hundreds of thousands of people died, why were we not better prepared for this pandemic?

"In all my 58 years, I never thought I would live to see a day like this," the teller replied. "Even the oldest person I know, Bertha, my 109-year-old great-great-grandmother, barely remembers the Spanish flu of 1918. That was the last time we had a situation like this."

"Yes, considering that here in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2020 everyone around us would be wearing masks and talking about an infectious disease," I replied.

Let's break down what's not working in the dialog exchange above. First of all, this conversation feels unnatural because it tries to explain everything too quickly to the reader. Explanations like these are generally considered "enlightening."show, don't tellRule writers love to rave. I usually find this concept a bit overrated, but I have to agree with this example. A good dialogue is the best form of a writer.show and don't tellwhat a character thinks and believes.

While acting is an essential part of the storytelling, you can't just let it fall into the reader's lap. Think of your story like your favorite pizza. Ingredients are evenly distributed and cooked to perfection. So you take a bite and under the bubbly cheese or caramelized onions or spicy tomato sauce is a tongue-numbing bag of dry salt. It covers your mouth and ruins all the food. This makes an exposure dump with your story. Instead, the narrative should extend throughout your novel, revealing itself in a natural and sensible way.

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How can this be avoided? It is important to remember that the characters must have some semblance of reality. Signs should not serve solely as vehicles for conveying information. They must have their own goals and motivations. In the example above, both the cashier and I know where we live and the date. The characters should not explain to each other things that both should already know.

Second, to write moving dialogue, the characters involved must:ideally- Having opposite motivations. It's sad, but writing about two people who agree on everything tends to backfire. InsideHow to write an impactful dialogueBell calls this the character's agenda.

This is the basis for stunning dialogues. It comes from a character who has an agenda and goes to another character who has an agenda. No matter how small or big the goals are, if they conflict with each other, the dialogue will work.

Characteristics of natural dialogue.

As a result, we know that natural dialogue should occur between two characters with opposite motivations, and not contain information that both characters already know. Are there other facets of good natural dialogue?

  1. Think of dialogue as action, not narrative.Dialogue should do what great action scenes do: drive the story forward and engage the reader. Even if the kitchen table scene is silent, good dialogue should be just as exciting as an action-packed fight scene.

  2. Let your dialogue reveal the character.As a writer, you have many different writing tools in your arsenal to reveal your character. The reader can be immersed in flashbacks or even break the fourth wall and speak directly to the reader. The main tool, however, is your character's voice as it appears in the dialogue. Insightful dialogue is also crucial for non-POVs,secondary charactersfor whom dialogue may be the only way to tell them apart.

  3. Don't reveal everything in your dialogue.🇧🇷 Real people lie, dodge questions and change the subject to avoid difficult conversations. Your characters should do the same. Like real conversations, fictional dialogue is often inconsistent - experiment with one character acting as the interrogator and the other as the disruptor.

  4. Let your dialogue have natural beginnings and endings.Almost no one speaks in complete sentences all the time; Most people have a specific rate of speech. Choose language that reflects the character's personality.demographics and attitudes🇧🇷 Some people stutter or lose their mind in the middle of a conversation. Others are quick to interrupt their fellow speakers. Usescriptsand an ellipsis to stop the dialogue and let it flow more naturally.

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Ok, let's go back to our grocery store example and try applying some of the features of natural dialog:

The cashier, whose badge reads Sonya, sighs for the tenth time before typing in the barcode again.

"Um…excuse me," I start. "You know when you take out more toilet paper..."

"No, ma'am. I'm sorry. We don't know when they'll be available again." His response is automatic, as if she had said the same thing a thousand times before.

"Listen, I understand there's a shortage, but is there some kind of rain control? I can put my name on a list if it matters..."

She cut me off again. "We don't have a list."

"What should I do then? I have three kids, all out of school, and I have no way of getting them to wipe each other's asses."

"Having children does not make you special. I have children too AND I take care of my mother.

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I inhale slowly, then exhale. "I understand that, but..."

"I bet your workplace is closed for safety reasons. I bet you stay home in front of a nice computer and work. I bet half your coworkers don't have COVID."

I think it might still be a bit too explanatory, but a draft or two can probably fix it. It is more natural than the previous two. Tell me what you think. Is this dialogue better than the previous two? Did I miss a trick to create a natural dialogue?

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FAQs

How do you write a narrative dialogue? ›

Tips for when writing a story with dialogue
  1. After you write, say your dialogue out loud. ...
  2. Take out any small talk. ...
  3. The best dialogue is brief. ...
  4. Each character should have their own unique voice. ...
  5. Remember to set your dialogue in the right time period. ...
  6. Characters speak to each other, not the reader.

How do you write a perfect dialogue? ›

How To Write Dialogue In 7 Simple Steps:
  1. Keep it tight and avoid unnecessary words.
  2. Hitting beats and driving momentum.
  3. Keep it oblique, where characters never quite answer each other directly.
  4. Reveal character dynamics and emotion.
  5. Keep your dialogue tags simple.
  6. Get the punctuation right.
  7. Be careful with accents.

What are the 3 rules of dialogue? ›

Here are three basic rules to get you started with using quotation marks to indicate dialogue in your writing.
  • Only spoken words go within quotation marks. ...
  • A different character speaking or responding with an action gets a new line or paragraph. ...
  • Punctuation marks belong inside quotation marks.
Apr 3, 2017

How do you write a natural dialogue script? ›

Features of Natural Dialogue
  1. Think of dialogue as action, not narrative. Dialogue should do what great actions scenes do—move the story along and engage the reader. ...
  2. Let your dialogue reveal character. ...
  3. Don't reveal everything in your dialogue. ...
  4. Let your dialogue have natural starts and stops.
Jun 2, 2021

What is the first step in dialogue writing? ›

The first thing you have to do before you write a dialogue is to decide who the characters are. You should also have a clear idea of the plot of the story, or in general, the context of the dialogue. Dialogues can be just a sentence, two or three lines or even a short paragraph.

What are the four strategies necessary to have a successful dialogue? ›

Conversations are a part of everyday life.
...
Practicing these skills leads to a change in attitude, which in turn affects our behavior and expands our possibilities for action.
  • Listening. ...
  • Respecting. ...
  • Suspending. ...
  • Voicing.
Jul 31, 2019

What are the 3 key elements of a characters dialogue? ›

Plato and the Elements of Dialogue examines Plato's use of the three necessary elements of dialogue: character, time, and place.

What are the 10 rules of dialogue? ›

My Ten Rules for Dialogue Writing
  • Dialogue must advance story, characterization, and dynamics. ...
  • Dialogue should never be mundane. ...
  • Give each character distinct rhythms of speech. ...
  • Keep those rhythms of speech consistent. ...
  • Be a little over the top, but not too much. ...
  • Use “said” in your dialogue tags. ...
  • Grammar is a suggestion.
Jan 7, 2019

What are the 6 rules of dialogue? ›

Follow these six tips for writing more believable and compelling dialogue between characters, whether that's in a short story, book, screenplay, or something else.
  • Use quotation marks. ...
  • Give speaker their own line or paragraph. ...
  • Make it clear who is speaking. ...
  • Vary speech tag use. ...
  • Use dialogue with a purpose.

What should you not do in dialogue? ›

10 Dialogue Errors Writers Should Avoid
  • Stilted exchanges – Your dialogue may not sound natural. ...
  • Similar voices – Make sure that each character has a distinct voice. ...
  • Small talk – This 'filler' dialogue does not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters.
May 5, 2017

How do you break up dialogue? ›

Indicate pauses by interrupting speech with dialogue tags

Sometimes, writers choose to interrupt a speaker's line with a dialogue tag before allowing them to continue. If the dialogue tag comes between sentences, cap it off with a period.

How do you structure dialogue? ›

How to structure dialogue
  1. In US English, dialogue goes inside double quotation marks (“dialogue”). ...
  2. Every time a new character speaks, start a new paragraph. ...
  3. When a character's dialogue extends beyond a paragraph, use quotation marks at the beginning of the second and/or subsequent paragraph.
Jun 24, 2022

What is a dialogue example? ›

Here are a few examples of lines of dialogue with dialogue tags: "Where did you go?" she asked. I said, "Leave me alone." "Answer my question," said Monica, "or I'm leaving."

How should a story start? ›

Starting Stories: 5 Great Beginning Strategies
  1. Strategy 1: Begin with action or dialogue. ...
  2. Strategy 2: Ask a question. ...
  3. Strategy 3: Describe the setting. ...
  4. Strategy 4: Begin with background information. ...
  5. Strategy 5: Have the main character introduce himself or herself.

What should any dialogue writing have? ›

It refers to the written form of a conversation between two or more people. The dialogues should be in quotation marks, and correct punctuation marks should be used. Write in a simple, easy-to-understand language and try to portray the tone of the dialogue in itself. The dialogues are not supposed to be lengthy.

What is narrative dialogue? ›

Narrative dialogue includes the words that the characters in a story speak aloud or internally. Authors utilize dialogue to advance character development, which aids the reader in understanding the personalities of the characters.

What makes good dialogue in a narrative? ›

Each piece of dialogue must do at least one of the following things: create tension, resolve tension, reveal backstory, move the narrative forward, convey the relationship between certain characters, or divulge important plot information. Great dialogue does several of these things at once.

How do you start writing a narrative? ›

Starting Stories: 5 Great Beginning Strategies
  1. Strategy 1: Begin with action or dialogue. ...
  2. Strategy 2: Ask a question. ...
  3. Strategy 3: Describe the setting. ...
  4. Strategy 4: Begin with background information. ...
  5. Strategy 5: Have the main character introduce himself or herself.

What are some examples of dialogue writing? ›

Example of a dialogue tag before dialogue: Ken said, "That sunset is incredible!" Example of a dialogue tag after dialogue: "I prefer sunrises," Joe replied. Example of a dialogue tag breaking up dialogue: "If you want to see a sunrise," Ken said, "we can go hiking in the morning next time."

Videos

1. Bad Dialogue vs Good Dialogue (Writing Advice)
(Writer Brandon McNulty)
2. MuggleCast: the Harry Potter podcast - 598: Old Immortal Lover (Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 17)
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3. How to Write Engaging Dialogue | Reedsy Live
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4. ChatGPT is the FASTEST way to write a NOVEL!
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5. How to Write Compelling Dialogue (Write to Sell Your Book)
(Write to Sell Your Book, LLC)
6. How to make your writing suspenseful - Victoria Smith
(TED-Ed)

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