Friday, March 1, 2013

8 Tips to Dynamic Dialogue

by Janet K. Brown  

Dialogue isn’t conversation.

1. Dynamic dialogue contains tension.

        Dynamic dialogue is at its best when the two or three talking desire different goals. For example: She thinks he’s coming to ask her to marry him. He's coming to convince her to not be mad if he takes a new job fifteen hundred miles away from her.

        Subtexting in dialogue heightens the readers' interest. In the example above, the words of the dialogue may sound as if the two characters are on the same page. He - "I've something very important to discuss with you." She - "Oh, yes, my love."

     These two characters could be talking about the same thing, but if you add internal thought to the lines of dialogue, it may sound different.

      "I've something very important to discuss with you." She would be angry, but Gerald must look out for his best interests. There was no time for love in his life right now.     

     She moved closer and clasped his hands. Her eyes twinkled. A tinge of pink colored her cheeks. "Oh, yes, my love."

          Here, thoughts and/or body language say something different than just words.

2. Know your characters as you know yourself to write dynamic dialogue.

     The best way to do this is to interview your main characters. Example questions could be: Have you forgiven a past betrayal? What secret are you keeping? What do you want most in life? What scares you?

     How can you have them speak in an interesting way if you don't know who they are?

3. Dynamic dialogue isn’t all words.

     When we talk with someone, we not only listen to what they say, but we watch their body language and see their actions. Gestures, even with a lack of words, can be powerful. Silence can speak volumes. No one stands still. We move, we flinch, we scratch.

     Watch a show on TV called "Lie to Me." The profilers decide if the people answer questions truthfully, or not. View the Bill O’Reilly show when he has Tonya Reiman as guest to give tips on the body language of famous people when they're interviewed. Take a course from psychologist-speaker-writer Margie Lawson when she teaches on body language.

     One extra note: Rarely do you need a tag like "he said/she said" if you also use a beat. (action, tone of voice, body language) in the same paragraph.

4. When you're creating dynamic dialogue, listen to your characters talk.

      Each should have their own vocabulary and word choices; educated or  slang;  teasing manner or very serious; country sounding or proper English.  Characters say the same phrases or words over and over when they speak. Do they have pet names for their friends? Do they answer a question with a question Do they follow through on their own track without hearing what the other person says? Do they pull a subject out of left field throwing the other person off balance like Columbo on TV?

5. Be a snoop to write dynamic dialogue.

     Listen to others at a restaurant, ball game, school, work. How do they talk? What words do they use? Also, listen to language in movies/TV programs. "CSI" is king of the one-liners. Dialogue in movies might be longer, more involved because they have more time. Likewise, a longer book may use longer sections of dialogue. A shorter book may use one sentence comments. Look at the time period. In our rush-rush society, we don't waste time on long drawn-out descriptions or talk. If we do, we might be interrupted by another person. Do that to your characters.

6. Reading your dialogue aloud will increase the dynamic.

     Does it have energy, bounce, rhythm, cadence? Did you combine short and long sentences? Maybe the words are good, but lack that certain something – perhaps you need to leave out or change a word or delete a whole sentence Prose and poetry have this in common. It may not rhyme, but it should have meter.

7. Dynamic dialogue should fit your story.

       Does it show tension when applicable? Does it fit mood? Teasing & light, or dark and heavy? The shorter the piece, the more important it is to inject as sense of time and place. A metaphor or simile should connect with your character.

8. Dynamic dialogue serves one of three purposes

      a. It moves along the story.

     b. It intensifies characterization

     c. It does both.

     If none of these apply, take out the dialogue.

Here's 2 examples of good dialogue

From Jordan Dane's No One Heard Her Scream.

     “Did you actually see the man driving the car?”

     “It was Hunter Cavanaugh.”

      Hearing Rudy say Cavanaugh’s name surprised Becca. She tried to not to let it show. “How did you know it was Cavanaugh? Had you ever seen him before?”

     He hesitated. Anger replaced the accusation in his eyes. “Oh, I get it. You don’t believe me. You wanna protect that…..”

From Linda Goodnight’s A Season of Grace.

     He grabbed the cell phone from Sergeant Gerrara’s over-size fist, trading it for his rifle. “Grace.”

     “Sergeant Collin Grace?” A feminine voice, light and sweet, hummed against his ear.

     “Yeah.” He shoved his helmet under one arm and stepped away from the gaggle of cops who listened in unabashedly. “Who’s this?”

     “Mia Carano. I’m with the Cleveland County Department of Child Welfare.”

     A cord of tension stretched through Collin’s chest…. He struggled to keep his voice cool and detached. “Is this about my brothers?”

     Read the dialogue included in your latest story. Check it against these 8 tips. Can you make it more interesting, more melodic, more real? Follow these hints to writing dynamic dialogue.Make your story zing.

#dialogue #writing #hope


  1. I'm always listening to what's being said around me. Though I write historical, the dynamics of conversation stay consistent.

  2. Well-written post, Janet. If dialogue seems forced or unnatural to the story, it doesn't work. Without body language/movements and thought, all you end up with is talking heads. Actions, introspection and setting all play into making dialogue work.

  3. Collette, you & me both. Conversation is the same, but the words change. Thanks you, Melanie. I so agree. Dialogue has many facets besides just the words between the quotation marks.

  4. Janet, great information. It's a combination of elements to create dynamic and clearly defined dialogue.

  5. Great tips. Using dialogue to break up long descriptive scenes is also helpful.

  6. Thanks, Wendi for your suggestion.