Writing dialogue in a novel requires more than just knowing how to write a conversation.Good dialogues intrigues, informs, moves a story. Read 7 dialogue examples and the ideas they give us for having effective character conversations:
Written dialogue (as opposed to spoken conversation) is challenging in part because the reader has no auditory cues to understand the audio. The subtle tones of spoken conversation must be nuanced with descriptive language.
"Dialogue" as a noun means "a conversation between two or more people as part of a book, play, or film" (DEO🇧🇷 But it is useful to remember the definition of dialogue as a verb: "Participate in a conversation or discussion to solve a problem". Solve story problems, sketch clues, build anticipation, suspense, and more.
So how do you write a dialogue that carries this sense of the word with purpose?
1. Get straight to the point in your written dialogue
In spoken conversations, we often change the subject, ramble, or use filler words like "hum" and "like." Get straight to the point in your written dialogue. We often start calls with jokes, like "Hi, how are you?" However, the effective dialogue skips over the boring parts.
For example, here is a phone call from Donna Tarttthe secret story:
"I was having difficulty speaking and the operator did not give me the number of a taxi company. "You have to tell me the name of a specific taxi company," he said. "We must not-"Donna Tart,the secret story(1992), pp. 142-143.
"I don't know the name of a particular taxi company," he said thickly. There's no phone book here.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't have permission—"
"Redtop?" I said desperately, trying to guess the names, make them up, whatever. 'Yellow top? City taxi? Assayer?'
I finally think I did it right, or maybe she just felt sorry for me."
Tartt's narrator, Richard, finds himself in extremely cold rooms during the winter, and the dialogue reflects the urgency of his situation. Notice how Tartt uses a concise narration to start the call. Tartt immediately moves on to the reason for Richard's call and also adds the interruption. This increases the sense of urgency.
Tartt also returns to the narrative instead of doing a nonsensical ending where Richard and the Operator say goodbye. Likewise, he goes straight to the heart of the dialogue and minimizes the padding.
2. Mix dialogue well with descriptive storytelling
When writing dialogue, we often forget to keep the background and environment in focus. The effect is similar to that of a theatrical backdrop that disappears as soon as the actors begin to speak.
To maintain an active sense of place, swipe narration adds setting details. For example, here Tartt describes Richard's encounter with a girl in the bathroom of his bedroom:
"I wasn't in the mood for a conversation and was unpleasantly surprised to find Judy Poovey brushing her teeth at the sink. 🇧🇷Pastel,the secret story, S. 51-52.
"Hello, Richard," she said, and spat out a mouthful of toothpaste. He wore cut-off jeans with frenzy and strange patterns drawn in magic pen and a spandex top that revealed his intensely aerobic stomach.
"Hello," I said, and started working on my tie.
'You are beautiful today.'
'Thank you very much.'
'You have a date?'
I looked away from the mirror to her. 'The?'
'Where are you going?'
By now he was used to his interrogations.
In this sample dialogue, Tartt describes the bathroom scene (Judy spits out toothpaste, Richard adjusts his tie and looks away from the mirror). These small details are enough to create a coherent scenario. She also notes that while Judy and Richard begin with banter, the dialogue quickly turns to details about Richard's plans (which were pointed out to Judy by her friend).
Tartt also doesn't use dialogue tags because you don't need to say "he said" or "she said". There are only two speakers, distinguished by line breaks and indentation. Surrounding text adds a scenic and realistic element to your exchange.
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3. Use dialogue to show important character information
in the offernovel publishing services, we often find dialogue lacking enough character reveal.
Dialogue is an excellent vehicle for character building. A character's voice, from the way he speaks to the themes he frequently explores, builds our understanding of the characters in the story.
For example, in a story set in a school, the opening dialogue might show a bully putting down another student. When a young child who speaks his mind and is not being abused walks into the classroom, the memory of the earlier exchange builds anticipation. We know even before the stalker and the new guy meet that any dialogue between them can be explosive.
Withinthe secret story, Edmund 'Bunny' Corcoran is the narrator's colleague. Headstrong and fanatical, Bunny convinces his friends to give him money. Tartt creates unsavory traits in Bunny that explain the deteriorating relationships within Bunny's circle of friends. She does much of this through dialogue that showcases Bunny's tactless, energetic, and judgmental nature:
"I love that jacket, by the way, man," Bunny told me as we got out of the cab. Silk, right?Pastel,the secret story, S. 54-55.
'Yes. It was from my grandfather.
Bunny took a piece of dark yellow cloth from her wrist and rubbed it back and forth between her fingers.
"Nice piece," he said matter-of-factly. "But it's not entirely ideal for this time of year."
'No I said.
'Nope. That's the east coast, boy. I know they are very laissez-faire when it comes to dressing the neck, but they don't let you wear a swimsuit all year round here.
This sample dialogue illustrates the dominant aspects of Bunny's construction and growth, testing the limits of others' patience. Thus, the dialogue is designed to build resentment between the characters, which explains the characters' subsequent choices.
4. Learn to write dialogue that drives the plot
There are several ways that good dialogue drives the plot forward. As discussed above, it can help develop character traits and motivations. The context of the dialogue, the circumstances in which the characters speak or hear others speak, is also helpful to the plot.
For example, the overheard conversation is a prominent resource in suspense writing. Espionage can provide a character with useful information. For example, an evil or mischievous character could overhear a conversation that is playing into their hands. For example, the wanted criminal in a murder investigation overhears the detective's friends talking about the detective's daily routine.
Dialogue can also drive plot and suspense through breaks. When the urgent conversation of two characters is interrupted by the arrival of a third, the reader must wait for the characters to resume their conversation.
Tartt builds the suspense perfectly in a scene in which his protagonist overhears snippets of a conversation between his new acquaintance, Henry, and his teacher, Julian:
They were Julian and Henry. None of them had heard me coming up the stairs. Henry left; Julian stopped in the open doorway. He was frowning and looked very serious, as if he was going to say something of great importance [...].
Julián finishes his speech. He looked away for a moment, then bit his lower lip and looked at Henry.
Then Henry spoke. His words were soft, but deliberate and clear. Do I do what is necessary?Pastel,the secret story, p. 81.
To my surprise, Julian took both of Henry's hands. "One only has to do what is necessary," he said.
Through dialogue heard by a third party, Tartt creates suspense that builds on this brief exchange. The brief scene builds anticipation that a secret deal between Henry and Julian will come to light. This affects our understanding of future interactions between these three characters.
Dialog Labels -Words like 'she said' and 'he mumbled'- help show who is speaking in a conversation between two or more characters. Sometimes (when alternative words for "said" are used, such as "muttered"), they also show the emotional state of the speaker. However, using unnecessary tags seems clunky. For example:
"Hello," I said.
'Is it really you? I can't believe it's been so long," she said.
"I'm sorry I was a recluse," I said, smiling.
The placement and repetition of "said" seems unnatural and deadly here. Compare:
She jumped in surprise. 'Is that really you? I can't believe it's been so long!'
"I'm sorry I was a recluse," I said, smiling.
The second allows us to focus our attention more on the content of what the characters are saying (and less on the fact that we are reading dialogue).
Alternative words for said(like 'screamed', 'whispered', 'spit', etc.) are like spices. Don't burn the reader's palate with too many. In general, it's considered good style for dialog labels to be as invisible as possible. The heavy use of labels is like too-short invisibility cloaks: you can see the author's awkward feet sticking out.
6. Use specific dialogues to illustrate context and general situations
In addition to using dialogue as a character development or plot advancement tool, you can use dialogue as a narrative device to illustrate a general situation. for example inthe secret story, Tartt uses a typical conversation between Bunny's friend Marion and Richard, the protagonist, to reveal the nature of Bunny and Marion's relationship.
"Let me in, old man, you have to help me, Marion is on the warpath..." Minutes later, there was a clear knock on the door: rat-a-tat-tat. It would be Marion, whose tight little mouth looked like an angry doll.Pastel,the secret story, p. 101.
"Is Bunny there?" she asked, rising on her toes and reaching up to look into the room behind me.
'He is not here.'
,He is sure?'
"He's not here, Marion."
"Bunny!" he yelled menacingly.
And then, to my embarrassment, Bunny sheepishly walked out the door."
Tartt uses the modal verb "would" to show a typical conversation, an exchange that illustrates many like him. He can use dialogue in this way to act out a frequently repeated conversation, perhaps in different words, but with the same underlying effect. For example:
"Clean your room," Mom always says. 'What am I, the Dalai Lama?'
"Yeah, and if it were you, she'd say, 'Wear your best clothes.' Smooth out those wrinkles."
So Jim and I played all summer, negotiating the injustices of being teenagers in a world that had all the wrong priorities.
Here is a sample conversation of two boys who become friends at summer camp.
7. Start writing sample dialogues and good advice
Anytime you find dialogue examples you like or an insightful quote on writing dialogue, copy them. It is an effective way to improve your ear for written language. Also, read aloud the dialogue you are writing. If possible, have someone read the other character's part. The ear rarely lies about the difference between dialogue that works and character conversation that fails.
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- Keep it brief. Dialogue shouldn't go over for pages and pages. ...
- Avoid small talk. Oh, this one is music to my introvert ears. ...
- Don't info dump. ...
- Give your characters a unique way of speaking. ...
- Be consistent. ...
- Create suspense. ...
- Honor the relationship. ...
- Show, don't tell.
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."What are the 10 rules of dialogue? ›
- 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.
Class 7 English Grammar Chapter 22 Dialogue Writing. A dialogue is a piece of writing in the form of a conversation or talk.What are the 5 elements of dialogue? ›
- Objective. ...
- Resource. ...
- Setting the Stage. ...
- The Characters. ...
- A Quick Side Note. ...
- Back to the Scene – After the meals are delivered. ...
- Five Elements of Strong Dialogue. ...
- 1) It is essential to the story.