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How to Write Compelling Dialogue

Skillfully used, dialogue can pull a reader into a book and mesmerize that person. It also provides easy reading and quickly moves the reader along as opposed to pages upon pages of descriptive wordings and phrases. Nobody has to learn about speech, it’s an integral part of our society. We engage in dialogue everyday whether it’s with another individual, over the phone, to our pets or even to ourselves. Dialogue is the most natural way society has of conveying information to one another. There is a trick however, to creating natural sounding dialogue in a book. When you listen to people talk, their sentences are fragmented, disjointed and typically peppered with slang, cuss words and fillers such as “uh, well, like, um…” Their facial and body expressions fill in the rest. It wouldn’t make much sense if you were to write dialogue exactly as you hear it. When writing dialogue, one must be able to convey conversation between characters in a natural, skillful way that doesn’t seem contrived.

An adroit writer will use dialogue to convey the history, personality or description of a character, to create a mood or setting. Instead of droning on and on in a paragraph describing the setting, how a person looks or the mood and risk putting your reader to sleep, use dialogue to convey that information.

Show the personality of your character by the way you have them speak. If you’re portraying a gangster then pepper their dialogue with slang and name calling. Convey the fact that they’re in a gang by making references to it in conversation. Portray a professional, perhaps a lawyer, by having him speak in a very eloquent manner using intellectual words. There would be no need to describe that he was a highly intelligent man who spoke well or even dressed well. Those can be shown through dialogue. You can even adopt a masculine or feminine way of speech to fit the gender of your character. What you want to do is create a picture of that character in the reader’s mind. Show the reader with your words and allow the reader to develop the picture in their minds.

Make references to the past in conversations. This gives the readers an insight into what drives the character in the story. Create pictures for them using dialogue. Make it so that the reader can read and say “Aha, so that’s where he got his murderous tendencies”, after reading a dialogue showing how his father beat him senseless as a boy.

Set the mood by using dialogue. Show the reader what a romantic night your characters are experiencing by having them reference the setting in their conversation. Instead of saying she got the matches out and lit the candles on the table. Use dialogue, such as “Hey babe, would you light the candles for me?” Using dialogue to show candles on a table is much more interesting than describing the action of getting the matches and lighting them.

Describe someone by having two characters talk about them rather than going into an actual play by play of a physical description. For instance, if a woman had spiky red hair, you could show two other people commenting on how she must have spent a fortune getting her hair cut and dyed. Plus the fact that now she’s going to have to spend extra time every morning gelling and shaping her hair into spikes. Properly used in dialogue the reader can get a sense of resentment from the two who are having the conversation about the woman.

Remember to read the dialogue out loud to yourself so you can get a sense of how it sounds to your ears. If it doesn’t flow or sound natural, then the reader isn’t going to identify with it. This is an extremely important part in creating compelling dialogue; getting the conversation to sound as if it could actually be taking place. If you find yourself hitting an awkward spot in the dialogue, then your readers most likely will too. Don’t get too carried away with dialects and slang. If it gets too complicated to read and follow, the reader most likely will put your book down. Another important thing to remember is not to get too carried away with the length of their responses. Most people speak in shorter spurts back and forth. The only time you’ll find someone going on and on would most likely be someone giving a speech or telling a story. Use dialogue to convey emotion. A simple one word response such as a curt “No” can indicate someone’s impatience with another.

Don’t insult a reader’s intelligence by telling him exactly how everything looked, felt or was. Readers have vivid imaginations and a big part of the lure of reading is to be able to figure out and visualize the spoken words into the bigger picture of the story.

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