Hello to all you writers or curious readers out there! Let’s talk dialogue. You can have beautiful descriptions in your stories, you can have intense fight scenes, but if you don’t have good dialogue, the heart and soul of your characters vanish.
I have been writing my entire life, and before becoming a published author my first exposure to having my work reviewed by others was writing fanfics. (I encourage all new and seasoned writers to take a shot at fanfics, they are great learning experiences!) As I put out more and more stories, I found I was getting the same comments.
“You write dialogue so well.” “You really capture the character voices.” “I can tell the difference between who is talking in your dialogue and it’s great.”
I realized then how important dialogue was to bring heart to the story, and that readers really pick up on good quality dialogue. From my years of award-winning writing that followed, I have compiled a list that I hope helps others that are struggling, or that just want to learn more!
Top Dialogue-Writing Skills
Don’t Overuse “Said”
I’ve mentioned before on this website how much I dislike “said” and only use it when absolutely necessary. Using alternative words will not only help your dialogue feel fresh and dynamic, but also help to convey emotions. Here’s some examples.
Don’t: “I hate you,” he said.
Do: “I hate you,” he snapped.
Don’t: “I can handle this,” she said.
Do: “I can handle this,” she asserted.
Choosing the right word helps to convey tone. You can refer to this list that we compiled for use! For a quick reference, here are some good ideas: growled, proclaimed, commanded, grumbled, countered, commented, explained, sighed, muttered, reprimanded, stated, admitted, pleaded, sputtered, divulged, concluded, begged, yelped, recalled, scoffed, teased, whimpered, responded, questioned.
Varying the Structure of Your Dialogue
What I mean by this, is that the “said” part of the dialogue shouldn’t always appear in the same place. Put it before, after, or even in the middle of the quotes to ensure things feel fresh and not repetitive. Here are some examples from Path of the Spiders:
“I’ve seen many things,” Xidime answered.
“I need to think,” Artemis sighed. “Let’s get out of here before we’re caught.”
Unolé gasped. “There’s a skeleton inside!”
Use Action to Bring More Life to Dialogue
When you use action alongside dialogue, it helps to carry the scene forward. Of course, this can be overused. You don’t want to interrupt the flow of dialogue by having too many action descriptions. But also under-using it makes dialogue feel too transactional. We want to keep readers invested in the scene and keep the plot moving forward. Here are more examples of individual lines from Path of the Spiders that have action with them.
Taliesin held his hands up before him. “Let’s see what he has to tell us.” Magic trailed after his fingers and his spider medallion leaked shadow. The snarling sounds of Chasmic rolled off his tongue. “Bol saath dzmare.”
Artemis returned her gaze to Lysander. “Yes, I will help.”
“I don’t think they are coming back,” Ruuda’s voice broke through his mess of thoughts as she walked up, wiping her blades clean of blood. “Those things were terrible. What did you say they were again?”
Understand How Your Character Sounds
We’ll do a whole other entry on “character voice” another time, but for now keep in mind that characters have a unique way of talking. That doesn’t mean you should force characters to speak unnaturally just for the sake of differentiating them. People often sound similar in real life, after all. But keep some things in mind when writing that character’s speech.
- Do they use “big” words, or small words? (“This is a pretty place” vs “This is a magnificent location”)
- Do they use conjunctions a lot, or do they not? (“I can’t do that” vs “I cannot do that”)
- Do they often speak their mind, or are they private?
- Are they emotional or stoic?
- Do they speak a lot or a little?
- Do they use profanity?
- Do they have any patterns of speech unique to them? (For example, Wash often uses “How’s about” in conversation.
This is more of a personal preference, but I’ve found trying to write accents more distracting than immersive. When I read a character that says “Ye gunna do wut?” rather than “You’re gonna do what?” I find I’m spending more time dissecting their speech rather than getting into the story.
Hope this has been helpful in your journey of writing! We love to know what projects you’re working on, so feel free to share below! Thanks for reading!