Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Writing Dialogue

 by Vivian Zabel 

     Writing realistic dialogue doesn’t come easily to everyone. In fact, most people have to work to refine dialogue to advance the story, to flesh out characters, and provide a break from narration — realistically and believably.

     Believable dialogue is a powerful component of writing that helps draw the reader into the story or presentation. However, bad dialogue can lose the readers faster than almost any other problem with the writing.
     So how can a writer make believable dialogue? First of all, observe and note the world around us (watch and listen and take notes). Choose right details – believable/real. Dialogue in writing needs to help develop characters and/or move the plot forward. 

     Then use some of the following tips to help make dialogue "real" in writing:


     Use different speech patterns or varieties – only a sample or taste rather than make the reader struggle through too much of a good thing. The dialogue needs to be understandable.
                                                Other patterns

     The manner of speech – reveals personality and emotions, don’t have to use as a dialogue tag, but as a comment about the manner of the character's speech.

     Write distinctive dialogue with each character different.

     Have actions tied closely to dialogue. As speaker talks, add action:
1.  Action before dialogue: The detective studied the crowd. “The killer is out there.”
2.  Action after dialogue: “How can you tell?” His partner searched the faces
around them.
3.  Action during dialogue: “Where else would he hide,” the detective pointed at the circling helicopters, “with all escape routes covered?”

     Have dialogue show what is happening “Why did you tear off the cover?”

     Don’t have to use “said” as the only tag for dialogue.Use a variety but appropriate tags

     Don’t have to use tags at all. Use action not tied directly to dialogue to identify speaker: Karen glared at him. “I hate that picture of you.”
      “You never told me.” Richard picked the torn cover off the floor.

     How does a person practice dialogue? One way to write a story in dialogue only, internal and oral dialogue. Below is a copy of a story I wrote for a contest, dialogue only, something about a debt repaid, and in 500 or fewer words:

“Mom, please, I don’t want to go.”
“For goodness sakes, Tina, you always liked parties, and this reunion is going to be the biggest party since you graduated. Why, you haven’t seen but maybe two of your classmates since that night ten years ago.”
            “There’s a reason. I … I need to look forward, not back. I want to make new memories, good ones. All I have of graduation are … are bad ones.”
            “You surely have outgrown all that.”
            “Don’t shake your head at me, Mom. That night is sheared into my brain. Don’t you care what happened?”
            “Of course, I care, and I hurt for you. I also know you need to face those kids. Yes, face the kids when you face the adults they’ve become. Everyone knows the truth now, in fact did within weeks.”
            “You aren’t going to let me not go, are you? You’ll nag me until I’ll wish I had.”
            “If that’s what it takes. Please, honey, it’s for your sake, for your good. They all know the ‘you’ seen in public. They know you’re a success. Now face them down.”
            “What choice do I have?”

            At least the reunion is at the community center, not the gym. I can do this. Just one step in front of the other, just like doing down the runway, ignore the stares, go into my own world, be glamorous Trina.
            “Trina Albright! Is it really you?”
            “Uh, yes, I believe it’s really me.” Wish the names on the badges weren’t so small. “And you’re?”
            “Carrie Austin. Come on, you remember me.”
            No, no, no, not her, not the first person I see.
            “Remember you? Yes, I guess I do, vaguely. How are you doing?” Tried to destroy anyone else lately?
            “I’m doing all right. Of course everyone knows how well you’re doing, big name model and all. Are you sure you just ‘vaguely’ remember me?”
            “Why? Why does it matter if I remember you or not?” Oh, my, she thinks she remained an important part of my life. Mom’s right. “I’m afraid I left high school behind me, and I’ve only kept up with a few close friends.”
            “Trina, umm, I owe you an apology. I started that rumor. I, well, I hated you.”
            “Hated me? Strange, you were the most popular girl in school. Why try to hurt me?”
            “Yes, you were smart, gorgeous, and would leave here and become something. I was the one pregnant and stuck here forever. I … I wanted to see you again, to pay my debt to you. I mean I’ve told other people what I did, but I needed to apologize to you. Please, forgive me.”
            “Of course, Carrie, I was hurt, deeply hurt, but time soon revealed the truth. And, the people who mattered always believed in me.”  And I was too dense to realize the truth myself. Thanks, Mom. “Consider your debt paid.”

      Try your hand at writing in dialogue only. See if you discover more about dialogue than you realized.


  1. I've performed exercises like this in the past and found them very helpful. Thanks for reminding me to practice.

  2. One of the 4RV authors, Holly Jahangiri, introduced me to the idea, and I have used writing in dialogue
    from time to time since.

  3. Great tips. Thanks for sharing them.

  4. Vivian, thanks for the dialogue tips. I've written in dialogue only and it is interesting.