The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Dialogue

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.

We’ve already taken a closer look at How to Create Vivid Settings and How to Write Persuasive Content in your novel, so don’t forget to check those out.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman Review Fantasy Author

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.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Do you have any tips about writing dialogue? If so, please share them. You know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2018.

26 thoughts on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Dialogue

  1. Using pop culture references can be a double-edged sword. I try to steer away from them as they can date the writer, and when the story was written. I’m about to use a reference to a famous Formula 1 driver in another chapter of Blue Cottage. A good story should be able to stand on its own merits. A story should be able to be read now, or a hundred years from now. Pop culture references serve to anchor the story to a specific period in time which is fine for historical stories but most fiction writers should use them sparingly.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Adverbs must die!!!!

    Sorry. Must curb my emotion. 🙂

    So many great tips you have here. The one thing I do when I’m knee deep in a draft is to find my favorite book and read a chapter or two. I’ll find the chapters that are heavy in dialog and I’ll study it to see why it was so effective.

    Excellent as always. Thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I always got confused with the dialog/exposition thing. I often skip over the long expositions in novels because they are so dry and tedious, and would rather have characters mention it to me over the course of the story than through long-winded private narrations.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. “I’ve been thinking about this, after you pointed out a long exposition in my story.”

        wow, I am new to writing. Have no literature background at all. I had no idea some experienced writers have the time or care enough to advise fellow writers. This is amazing to know.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Every writer started out as inexperienced, part of the fun is learning, and an even better part is looking back at our early writing and seeing how much we’ve improved, grown and achieved.

        My blog posts are there to help other writers learn the craft and hopefully giving them motivation to continue.

        Like

      3. It makes a huge difference thank you.
        I wrote a novel in ten chapters and edited it until I felt satisfied it is perfect. The chapters are in draft to be published over a year on WordPress.

        It makes it easier for me to apply what I learn from your guidelines and ‘A writer’s path’ without stressing about completing it. Before I publish one chapter I edit all of them based on the advice I understand (most I don’t get yet) which has been an amazing journey.

        So thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent tips, Rainy! One dialogue issue that bugs me is when it’s used for exposition too much. I can handle some necessary dialogue exposition, but when it’s really obvious, or in every single character conversation, it’s just lazy writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. All these points are so true, and such helpful reminders and tips. Thank you, Lorraine! I am guilty for overusing names in dialogue, and always try to filter them out in editing. Thanks for the reminder ❤ xx

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: [TRADUÇÃO] Os Erros e Acertos na Escrita de Diálogos – Blog do Palhão

  7. Wonderful, solid advice! I’ve only read one book that used adverbs beautifully, and that was The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler. Most books are bogged down with adverbs, but this author must have found the secret to adverbs (which I’ve yet to decipher!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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