7 Dialogue Tips: What We Do Say

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official

Would you believe that only 18% of the population favors assertiveness? That means 82% of the population favor a more passive approach. That’s a whole lot of miscommunication and pent up emotion. How did it get this way?

I mentioned in another post on characters that our upbringing has a lot to do with who we are today. This goes for the things we say and don’t say. Our culture is geared more toward collectivism that started the day we entered school.

How a person was raised will affect the way they speak. Where they were raised will affect which words they choose. Even their gender will affect how they speak. Good dialogue is hard to write. My top suggestions are to know your characters and save the fluff.

If the dialogue doesn’t move the plot forward or show character, leave it out. In my other post about dialogue, I explained about the unspoken content, but in the following tips, you’ll learn how to use what characters do say the right way.

Fluffy doesn’t belong here.

Photo by Matthew Henry

You want your dialogue to be natural, and a good way to make this happen is to listen to other people speaking to one another. you’ll notice the way words flow, how different people speak, even if they are from the same area, but you’ll also notice the fluff.

The dreary niceties. Small talk, stammering (unless part of your character’s voice, and even then, don’t overwhelm us), repetition. Fluff is the stuff that doesn’t belong in dialogue.

Voice

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

Each character should have their own voice. A good way to check this is to write a scene without dialogue tags. If you can make this work in the book, fantastic, but stick to practicing it before you include any. If your characters all speak alike and you can’t tell who is speaking, go back to work. Knowing your characters will help improve your character voices.

Dialect

Dialect and voice tie in, but I wanted to touch on this. Feel free to add a few sparse pieces of dialect to begin with, but don’t overdo it. We only need hints–odd words native to where they come from, the way they put sentences together, action tags, so forth. If you don’t hit us over the head with dialect, we won’t have to reread your dialogue. Thus, interrupting the flow of your work.

Dialogue as tension

Dialogue is a powerful tool if used correctly. One of the best things it can do is raise the tension instantly. It can enhance the mood of the scene (also enhancing conflict when applicable). People rarely say what they mean, so dialogue is a simple way to create misunderstandings.

Preach to me

Photo by Nycholas Benaia

When the author inserts himself/herself into the narrative or dialogue. You’re forcing your theme or central idea on the reader and it shows. You’ve got something you want to say in your work, and that’s perfectly fine, but show the reader, don’t shove it down their throat with pure telling.

Mixing it up

As I’ve said, dialogue is hard. Another mistake newbies make is to rely on dialogue alone. Dialogue is to enhance the narrative, not take its place. Take a look at my other post about dialogue here.

Tag–you’re it

A lot of writers think that it’s repetitive to use the tag “said” but in actuality, we prefer it. That’s not to say that you can’t use other tags, but be wary of tags that repeat what your character just said or the punctuation you just used to end the dialogue line. In the case of a question mark, it is okay to use “asked” but you could easily use “said”, as well. No need to use “yelled” when there is an exclamation point. (Also, use exclamation points sparingly). When you choose to use another adverb as a tag, be sure it’s a strong one.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Good dialogue is difficult to write, but hopefully these tips will get you on the right path. Leave a comment below about other dialogue tips you’ve come across. Enjoy!

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