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Tips for Writing Good Dialog

 


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Dialog for fiction must be neither too much like life, nor too much like prose. Dialogue should not contain the lifelike “uhms" and “ahs" of our everyday speech. It should read naturally. If you want to know if you've written good dialog read it, or ask someone else to read it. You should be able to hear when the dialog sounds artificial or forced.

To avoid artificial dialog do the following:

Remain aware of your character. If your character is not direct, they should not speak in direct ways. If your character is bold, it is likely their speech will be too.

Break your message into small dialog sets. Beginning writers tend to want to turn important dialog into speeches. It is much more natural to impart important information through several interchanges. Your audience also appreciates this, as it increases the pace of your dialog. If you find yourself running over 3-4 sentences you should really break your dialog into smaller chunks.

Dialog contains two important elements below its surface. These are:

Voice:

Voice describes the way your character speaks. In Goodfellas, for example, there is a clear New York cadence to the dialog. The characters also use examples from their real lives, and express themselves in a way that compliments their behaviors.

Using the following may enhance the “color" in your character's dialog voice:

  • Allusions to their respective backgrounds (cultural, regional, trauma, etc)
  • Expressions borrowed from their professions (e. g. a surgeon may describe things in medial terms, a soldier would describe them in military terms)

Subtext:

Subtext describes the undertones of given dialog. Subtext involves “reading in between the lines. " It reveals the emotional or contextual substance of a scene. Often a writer will employ subtext because it is more appropriate than forcing the character speech directly. If for example, a detective were hoping to lure a thief into revealing his guilt, the dialog might be written as follows:

Detective:

It sure would be nice to have a cool million in the bank.

Suspected Thief:

I wouldn't know what to do with all that money.

Detective:

I'm sure there's something you could think of. [beat] Me, I'd go to the Caribbean. I'd get myself a big ol’ house on the beach and watch the sunset everyday.

Suspected Thief:

That's not for me. [beat] Too many retired thieves and con men.

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