Writing Dialogue

Writing Dialogue

Some people have difficulty writing dialogue while others find it a breeze. Thankfully I’m one of the latter. Adding dialogue comes easy to me and I believe it flows convincingly in my romance stories. I hesitate to tell anyone how to write dialogue as I figure if words don’t come easily, the reader will pick up on the unnaturalness of the speech.

My writers’ group is currently working on dialogue. This month we presented a piece and decided to bring back the same piece next month with any improvements we could think of. Its a great exercise as we can hardly go back with the same writing, even if we felt it was pretty good. I was especially pleased with the timing as my example was from a pivotal scene from my work in progress. I needed to make sure the “discussion” between my hero and heroine sounded genuine, and that the content was strong enough to drive a wedge between them. I received some excellent feedback which I’ve adapted to fit the circumstances and I look forward to the response to my reading it again next month.

Well written dialogue is essential to any good fiction novel. I believe its most important role in a story is that it gives the characters’ a personality. Through the dialogue we learn to like or hate them, to know whether they’re truthful or deceitful. Are they friend or foe. While chunks of narrative might not appeal, and are often skipped through, dialogue rarely takes a reader out of the story. It is used to change moods, heighten drama, quicken the pace and add variety to writing.

By ensuring the words you put into your characters’ mouth suit them, you are helping to label them. ie a university maths professor is unlikely to talk in a similar way to a used car salesman. Care needs to be taken here. Using slang or attempts at local dialects might age your story as well as not work unless they are very carefully crafted. It is better to avoid attempting such distinctions and instead use some action or description accompanying the dialogue to extenuate differences. To make the speech realistic use of contractions is definitely acceptable. Reading the words aloud will soon show whether they sound realistic.

A romance story should have approximately 60 percent dialogue to 40 percent narrative. That means the dialogue must keep pushing the story forward, keep the pace moving and actually say something necessary. Characters talking about the weather  – unless a storm or drought is important to the story – or something equally as mundane is wasting words. And as romance novels are often confined to short word counts, every word is precious and should be used very carefully. Have the characters share discussions which affect the plot and drive it.

Tags are always discussed alongside dialogue. Should they be used after each comment, or can they be avoided? Should ‘said’ be the only tag used? I feel this is personal choice. I like to use other tags eg whispered, yelled, called etc. as well as said, and yet I’ve read they should be avoided. But I think a tag can easily be left out by giving the character some action alongside the speech.

eg. “Get away from there.” Mary ran to the door and planted herself in his path. – we don’t need to put said or any other tag alongside Mary’s speech.

As well as reading your dialogue aloud to check for realistic speech, be sure whatever you have your characters’ say is serving a purpose. It needs to lay out some plot-line, drive the plot forward, add to the readers’ knowledge of the character  or explain something from the past or back story. And always be on the lookout to use stronger words which clearly convey the emotions of the speech.



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