The best way to immerse a reader into your story is directly through your character’s, experiences. Their senses and surroundings, but also their internal thoughts and reactions: Therefore, dialogue is an important tool for any writer.
Here is my list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing effective dialogue.
Do – keep your character’s voice consistent: Every character thinks and acts in different ways, reflect this through what they say, they should have a unique pattern of speech or vocabulary. Equally as powerful, is what they don’t say. A long, drawn-out pause or internal reflection can work wonders.
Don’t – bog down the conversation with irrelevant fillers, like small talk or little noises that we tend to use; ‘Erm, um, well, yeh…’ there’s no room for it in your novel. Everything said and done must drive the plot forward with purpose.
Do – add conflict and tension to dialogue to keep the reader hooked.
Don’t – Litter your dialogue with people’s names, this is usually only done when a character is trying to get someone’s attention or to make a point.
Do – punctuate and formulate your dialogue. Keep your manuscript consistent with the style of speech quotes used and remember to start a new line when there’s a new speaker.
Don’t – forget the importance of speech Tags. If the reader has backtrack to discover who’s speaking then you’ve lost engagement., a cardinal sin in the writing world. By adding a simple, she said or he said, at the beginning or end of the dialogue can make a huge difference. But keep them to a minimum, only use if the reader can’t tell who’s speaking.
Do – use Action Beats to show what your character is doing/ thinking by adding action and gestures.
Don’t – convey your characters emotions with adverbs like, said angrily, sulkily, or sadly. This is telling, instead, show through the dialogue and action beats.
‘Get out.’ Ben curled his fists and grit his teeth. Or ‘Go away.’ Ben slumped further into his seat and stared at the floor.
Do – use the preference of said over other speech verbs such as, exclaimed, breathed, stuttered or cried. Keep it simple and let the dialogue and action do the talking.
Don’t – use dialogue as an opportunity for exposition: This is where the character explains the plot. It’s the worst kind of telling over showing.
Do – take advantage of the opportunity to reveal character insights; what does there speech tell the reader about their age, culture or background. In The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Janet makes pop culture references during her dialogue, not only does this reveal the era she grew up in, but it also reveals her witty sense of humour.
Don’t – over use jargon, slang, or accents: It can become jarring to the reader. Whilst the odd Scottish infliction can be enduring ‘do you ken?’ Too much becomes a reader’s battlefield as they try to decipher each and every spoken sentence. Equally, slang dates and becomes irrelevant. Different cultures use different turn of phrases, so what works in one part of the world will not make sense in another part.
Do – check your dialogue by reading it out loud to see if it sounds natural and like something your character would say. It never hurts to act it out, so have some fun and get creative.
Do you have any tips about writing dialogue? If so, please share them. You know I love hearing from you.
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Until next time, Much Love.