• 3-minute read
  • 19th December 2018

3 Tips for Writing Dialogue in Fiction

“Fancy seeing you here,” the proofreader says, raising an eyebrow. “Word is you’re writing a novel and need some help. Well, you’ve come to the right place.” The proofreader takes your hand, gently but firmly leading you to a mysterious door in the corner of the room.

“Come with me,” he says as he turns the handle, “and I’ll teach you all about writing great dialogue.” And as the door opens, you are dazzled by a bright light and feel the following tips fill your mind…

1. Listen to People

To sound real, dialogue should mimic the feeling of real conversation. A good way to get a sense of this is to listen to other people speak. Take note of the expressions that people use, the way conversations flow and change, and how speech differs from written language.

Eavesdropping is the author's favorite pastime.
Eavesdropping is the author’s favorite pastime.
(Photo: Thomas Szynkiewicz)

However, don’t worry about making your dialogue too realistic. Human conversation is often full of “umms” an “urrrs,” but including these in your writing will make it stilted and hard to read. The main reason you’d include a verbal pause is to show that someone is hesitating.

2. He Said, She Said

You may find yourself using “he said” and “she said” quite a lot in your dialogue. This is fine. In fact, it is better to use these terms consistently than to vary your dialogue tags too much.

It is fine to use a descriptive term such as “shouted” or “whispered” now and then, but using too many will be distracting. The main thing is to ensure your readers know who is speaking at any given moment, so you can even leave dialogue tags out as long as this is clear from the context.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

It can be tempting to tell your readers how a character feels while they speak. Typically, this will involve using adverbs such as “happily” or “sadly,” or even having the character outright say how they feel. Take the following exchange, for instance:

“I got the job! I’m so happy!” she said.

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“That’s nice,” he replied distractedly.

This tells us how the characters feel. But it is usually more interesting to show the reader how they feel by describing what they are doing. For example, we could change the line above to say:

“I got the job!” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

He looked up from his desk for a moment. “That’s nice,” he said, before returning to his work once more.

Here, we can still tell that she is happy and that he is distracted. But we get this from the extra description rather than by being told directly.

Summary: 3 Tips for Writing Dialogue in Fiction

Keep these tips in mind when writing dialogue in a novel:

  1. Listen to other people’s conversations to get a sense of how they flow and the expressions used. This will help your dialogue sound natural.
  2. Stick to “he said” and “she said” as dialogue markers. Using too many terms such as “exclaimed” or “whispered” is distracting.
  3. Describe what your characters are doing while they speak. Most of the time, you can use actions to indicate how a character feels.

And once you have a final draft written up, don’t forget that you can send it to us for professional proofreading!

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