The dialogues are complex, although there are authors who seem to have a natural talent. In interviews, they admit that they like to write dialogue and are able to make each character speak with a distinctive voice. On the other hand, many other authors avoid them whenever they can because it takes a lot of effort to make them look natural.
I understand this last group very well because, to be honest, I can think of few things that can destroy a novel or a story faster than a poorly written dialogue.
Why is Writing a Dialogue so Tricky?
If something is difficult for us, it is always interesting to analyze why.
Writing dialogue is difficult because the conversations in a novel do not precisely reproduce natural language, in the same way that dialogue in a movie or a play does not.
Otherwise, you would only have to connect the recorder and faithfully transmit the pauses (“…”), inflections (“Raul squawked”), fillers (“hum,” “I don’t know,” “I mean”), and words (“well, I don’t know, the truth is that if you think about it, it could be”).
A dialogue should work inside the page, not outside. It has to sound natural without being so. It is not enough to tune your ear; you also have to be able to distill a conversation and turn it into literary material.
So, while it is good advice to read the dialogue aloud to detect specific problems, that does not mean that they have to sound like two people talking in real life.
In this article, I’m going to share five very common dialogue writing tips for new authors. They are all very simple in theory but quite challenging to avoid in practice. Of course, they all have a reason for being, and even if we decide to skip these tips a million times, I think it is good to know that they exist and remember them from time to time.
#1 Dialogues Should Provide Information
The dialogues are not a mere respite for the reader; they are another way to advance the story and convey information. Deciding which parts should be discussed and which should be described is complicated, and the skill of each comes into play, but when reviewing a dialogue, the writer must ask himself:
What was it I wanted to tell here?
There are certain occasions in which a dialogue’s content must be described instead of “dialogued” because although the reader can extract information from any exchange—there is always something—it is not enough to justify its inclusion in the story.
#2 The Best Word to Accompany a Dialogue is "Said" "Says"
Of course, it depends on the tense you’re using in your story. But for this instance, I’m going to use my examples in the past tense.
She did not “whispered.” She did not “exhorted.” She did not “emphasized.” He did not “screamed.”
Because “said” is an invisible verb.
The reader is so used to seeing it that, except in extreme cases, its abuse is not tiresome. It is the same with the verb “asked,” perhaps also with “exclaimed” or “answered,” things like that. But that’s it. All other verbs force the reader to pay attention to the word we are using.
Maybe that’s the idea, we can think.
There are definitely some verbs that clarify the scene (“whispered” and “yelled,” for example). But even these words break the rhythm of good dialogue. And there are also some others that are a clear manifestation of the laziness of the writer. As an example:
- “I’m going to kill you,“ Jhon threatened.”
- “—Don’t do that,” Peter growled.
If the “I’m going to kill you” dialogue isn’t self-explanatory, then the writer has a serious problem.
And, on the other hand, try to speak growling. Try to say anything. In fact, just try to growl.
You see? It sounds ridiculous because you are not a dog.
In these cases, the words spoken by the characters, the context, the scene, and other details that the writer can introduce into it, should be sufficient to deduce the tone in each of the interventions of a conversation.
#3 Do NOT Abuse Exclamation and Question Marks
For the same reason that you should use “said” whenever possible.
The intensity of a dialogue should not be forced through exclamation marks. The weight has to fall on the words. If not, what you’re trying to do is give force to lousy dialogue, which usually does not work well.
The solution is not to add exclamation marks; it is to change the dialog.
Question marks can also be dangerous. They are essential to mark questions, but if your dialogue is peppered with them, one of two things may be happening:
- You are using the dialogues to explain a lot of data and circumstances that you have not been able to transmit naturally throughout the story (something we call infodump).
- Your dialogues are in danger of becoming repetitive as if they were part of an interview.
#4 Learn How to Differentiate Your Characters Through Their Way of Speaking
We want our characters to be different, distinguishable. That each one has its own particular voice and personality. This can sometimes be tricky, especially if we’ve gone to the trouble of creating realistic characters and not stereotypes.
A stereotypical character will speak through cliches, of course, which is very comfortable for the writer and very uncomfortable for the reader.
So, how to characterize the characters?
Each person has a different linguistic range. Some use five hundred words under normal circumstances, and some use many more. It is not just a cultural issue; slang, vulgarisms, regional variants, and a million other elements (including fillers) can also be used. If the writer is consistent with his use, it will be easy to differentiate the characters.
Through his style
It’s not just what the character says; it’s also how he says it. The aggressiveness, the calm, the length of the sentences, and the way in which he reacts to each of the situations that are presented to him. All of this helps define a character through dialogue.
#5 Try to Leave Two Characters Alone BEFORE Starting a Dialogue
I don’t remember where I read it, but I found it fascinating. The writer said that most of the time, one of the biggest problems a novelist has is getting two characters to be left alone to carry on a conversation.
This is based on the idea that most dialogue should be an exchange of words between two people. Only two because all dialogue is a conflict, and most conflicts can be resolved with two points of view.
You will think that it’s stupid, but if you look at any novel, you will realize that most of the dialogue scenes take place between two people and no more.
You see? Fascinating.
You can handle more than two characters in a conversation, of course, but it is complicated and often unnecessary. What you have to train is the ability to leave two characters alone in a natural way. That’s it.
How to Use These Tips
Are these tips a little severe? Absolutely. It’s just that, tips.
Of course, they are quite common, so at least it is worth knowing that they exist. With this, as with any other recommendation for writers that we can find anywhere—and this blog is no exception—we must do three things.
- Read it,
- See if it works for us,
- And, if it helps us, use it.
Sometimes it seems that a writer has to walk with leaden feet and that good literature is full of decalogues and rules that have to be respected if one wants to write well (whatever the hell that is), and it is not like that at all.
If you wish to make one of your characters “squawk” an answer, go ahead.
But yes, if he keeps squawking a few lines later, you will understand if I think that your character is a raven.
What about you? Is it difficult for you to write dialogue scenes? Do you try to avoid them? If you liked this post, I encourage you to share it on social networks.