As some of you may have heard through Twitter or Facebook, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl over a week ago. Needless to say it has been a busy and exhausting time and my blog has been rather quiet. I had a post planned just after Valentine’s Day, but didn’t quite get to finish writing it before going into labour, so it has been put on hold for now. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to have freelance blogger and writer Heather Smith offer to write a guest post for me. Here are her top 10 tips for writing dialogue.
10 Tips for Writing Dialogue
1. Start – Getting underway is the toughest part. You have to compose dialogue over and over again to get good at it. You have to practice. The more you write, the better it gets.
2. Eavesdrop – Listen to actual people talking. They don’t use proper grammar. They don’t speak in full sentences. Sometimes they chat over each other. Write dialogue like it actually sounds. Dialogue is rich in its own way- the silences, the crosstalk, the things omitted are just as vital as what’s actually said.
3. Speak it – Read what you wrote audibly. You’ll hear where it sounds stale or stilted. You’ll hear where it doesn’t flow and where it does flow. If you read quickly enough, your brain will unavoidably correct what you’ve done wrong, so listen to your words as you read aloud. You’ll acquire a lot from this simple exercise.
4. Chill out– Don’t stress about making your dialogue flawless. Let your characters speak. They may say things that you never imagined. If you know your characters inside and out, let them express themselves through you. You’ll wind up with a much more realistic story.
5. Wander – Feel free to ramble on. People infrequently get right to the point in a discussion. Unless your character is a police officer or doctor giving a report, don’t presume that they’ll give just the facts. People go off-topic; it’s a part of life. Let your character ramble and they’ll end up much profounder and genuine.
6. Keep it unpretentious – Don’t make your characters say everything they know. No one does that. Reduce your dialogue to the bare bones. A ‘yep’ or ‘nope’ can speak volumes about a character. They don’t always have to reply to others, and they don’t constantly have to finish a thought. Let your readers fill in some gaps. Letting the readers fill in the blanks adds strata to your story that even you, the writer, might have otherwise overlooked.
7. Slang – What we speak is a living language. It changes. Let your characters’ verbiage show who they are and where they come from. If they want to say ain’t, then let them. It’s not your job to be the grammar police for your characters. People speak badly. They dangle participles, they use fragments, and they curse. Remember that it’s not you that’s talking- it is your character. They have their own personalities, so let them be who they are.
8. Less is More– Don’t go too far with accents. Tell the reader what pronunciation a character has and then give clues in the dialogue. No one wants to read a page of apostrophes and deliberately misspelled words. A ya’ll or a gotta once in a while will prompt readers of who’s talking, without the annoyance factor.
9. Intelligibility – Make sure your readers can follow who is talking. A he said, she said will do wonders for a dialogue-heavy piece. If you have more than four quotes without stating who is talking, you might want to toss that in. It doesn’t have to be difficult. ‘He yelled’ works just as well as ‘he shrieked, crying to the skies as his thundering call resonated off the walls’.
10. Exhibit it– Remember that people are reading your dialogue, not speaking it (unless you’re a screenwriter). If you want a character to pause, take a breath, or even stutter, you’ll have to write it down. Breaking up a quote is a simple way to visuallydisplay a pause. ‘It’s like this,’ he said, ‘I’m leaving.’ Because of that disruption, the reader sees the pause without being told it’s there. Unless you have a character doing something unique with the time between words, make it visual but not explicit.
Heather Smith is an ex-nanny. Passionate about thought leadership and writing, Heather regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting blogs/websites. She also provides value to nanny service by giving advice on site design as well as the features and functionality to provide more and more value to nannies and families across the U.S. and Canada. She can be available at H.smith7295 [at] gmail.com.
6 thoughts on “10 Tips for Writing Dialogue (Guest Post)”
Congrats on your baby girl, Jo! Enjoy these early weeks with your little one, and take lots of pictures. They grow so fast. (I can hardly believe my baby girl is 8 weeks already!)
Thank you, Laura! They really do grow so fast. I hope things are going well with your little one.
We went straight from colic to teething! But we’re surviving… and when she’s not screaming she’s a very sweet adorable baby!
Jo, congratulations on your baby girl, I’m delighted for you. Blessings to your family.
This post has so much great information (thank you, Heather) that I will have to come back and take my time reading it through.
Also, Jo, congratulations on being awarded the Sunshine award! If you go to my blog on Tuesday, March 6 (your evening, I believe) you will learn the details.
Thank you, Lynn, and thank you for the award! I shall go check it out.