Sunday, February 26, 2012

Writing Tip - Dialogue can be fun

by Stephanie Burkhart  

 Writing dialogue can be fun, but a challenge. Dialogue must do several things well to be effective so I thought I'd share some tips and ideas on writing dialogue.

#1 – Dialogue should sound authentic, but not reflect real life too closely.

In real life people greet each other with:

"Hello, Bob."
"Hi, Sue. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay. You?"
"I have a little headache."

Dull and boring, huh? Try to strip as much of these exchanges that you can from your dialogue. Get to the heart of the matter by passing over pleasantries. Rule of thumb: Stay away from pointless chit chat.

#2 – Dialogue should move the plot forward, but not be an info dump.

When you use dialogue, reveal a little about your character, but don't go into a monologue that reads like an info dump.

"Lord Varga does not like garlic," said Lazlo.
Amelia arched an eyebrow. "I didn't know. Why?"
"It makes him sick."
"How interesting. Garlic is known for it's healing properties."
Lazlo pursed his lips.

#3 – Avoid dialect in dialogue.

Why? Quite honestly, most authors can't do it well and readers who don't "get it" might find it a bit stilted.

#6 – You are what you speak.

The words characters say reveal who they are so make them shine. Are they educated? Young? Friendly? What do they value?

"Old lady Jenning's pig ran away again."
"Did you find him?"
"Sure did – down by the river."
"Did you return the pig?"
"Sure did. She said she appreciated my honesty."

#7 – Dialogue shows suspense

The lack of dialogue or reluctance to talk may heighten the suspense.

"Do you know what she wanted?"
"What was what?"

All these are tools you can use to help develop your story. A note about dialogue tags:
You should only use "he said" or "she replied" when you need to identify the speaker. Other "tags" you can use, I refer to as action tags. For example:

Amelia arched an eyebrow. "I didn't know. Why?"
"I didn't know. Why?" she asked.

The action tag puts you more in the moment.

Have a great week all!
My upcoming book, "First Flag of New Hampshire" will be out with 4RV Publishing shortly. It's a young adult book. BLURB: Can Alyssa and Miguel find the First Flag of New Hampshire before time runs out on their project?


  1. Speaking with me editor hat in place today...use contractions in dialogue. Most people speak with the contracted forms unless they're emphasizing something but a lot of authors stilt up their dialogue with "I am" instead of "I'm," and so on.

  2. Very good post, Steph. Many useful tips.

  3. Excellent post. I love good dialogue. Stilted conversations in books make me cringe.

  4. It's fun to eavesdrop discretely in restaurants and stores to gather interesting dialogue. And in my work, I use dialogue at times to break up blocks of narration or description. Bonnie McCune, "A Saint Comes Stumbling In"

  5. Sorry I'm late, Steph! Great post - I love to read dialogue in books and like to write it. I've loved reading the excellent dialogue in your books!