Five Tips on Using Dialogue

Five Tips on Using Dialogue

Matthew Gurteen

Dialogue is essential when writing an engaging story. Whether it be a romantic exchange in a Jane Austen novel or a conversation heard by an animal (as in Natsume Sōseki’s I Am A Cat), the uses of dialogue in books, movies, poems, and all other creative writing are endless.

Here are our five tips on how to write engaging and compelling dialogue and use it in your story!

1. Keep your dialogue short.

A common mistake for all new writers is to pad their dialogue with unnecessary introductions, sentences, and goodbyes. As Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, says, if you’re going to have your characters talking to one another, it should be for some reason, not just to have them chattering away. When people talk, there’s usually quite a lot of padding and verbiage, pauses and ums and uhs and you know and like, a lot of stuffing in the conversation like that. And if you put all of that into a book, it can get either unintentionally comical or very boring. When using dialogue in your story, it is best to keep it short so as not to bore your readers. Consider starting your dialogue mid-conversation and finding a way to end the conversation speedily.

2. Use punctuation correctly and consistently.

Remember to place your punctuation inside your quotation marks. Your reader will struggle to follow the characters’ words if they don’t know when to take a breath, and publishers will pick up on it immediately. Don’t be afraid to double-check online if you are unsure about your punctuation.

3. Build your characters through their dialogue.

It is the golden rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell. Dialogue is the best tool in the writer’s handbook for showing how a character acts, feels, or is. As Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust, Good Omens, and Coraline, says, Dialogue is character. The way that somebody talks, what they say, how they say it is character. And dialogue has to show character. It also has to show plot. And maybe it can be funny along the way. Writers must use their dialogue to show character. Dialogue is the best method of building characters, whether in a comedic, romantic, or suspenseful context.

4. Avoid giving too much away.

As much as you want to use your dialogue to build character, you also do not want to give too much away. Dialogue can be a helpful tool. It can also reveal too much story, though. Remember to show, don’t tell in other ways, and use dialogue sparingly.

5. Mimic conversations from your own life.

The best way to write engaging dialogue is to use conversations you have already heard. Charles Dickens was the greatest novelist of his age because he copied the speech of people around him. Similarly, including the phrases you hear in your life in your story creates a believable story and dialogue that flows.

If you use these dialogue tips in your next creative work, you are sure to have your audience desperate to read or watch more!

What’s your favourite exchange of dialogue you have read or watched? Please leave it in the comments below, along with your other tips not included in this article.