How to use dialogue in your stories

dialogue

Nowadays all fiction stories are filled with dialogue where the characters speak to each other and help to tell the story. Sometimes beginning authors are hesitant to use dialogue. This is rightly so, as it’s not easy to write dialogue. Dialogue between two characters should be written as if they live in the ‘real world’, but in this already lies a pitfall: the ‘real world’ has no plot. Everyday conversations frequently have no purpose at all and those don’t belong in a story.

Necessary dialogue

One way for an author to learn which dialogue is necessary for a story is to read a variety of novels that have been published over the last ten years and to study the dialogue. Experienced authors only uses dialogue when it’s essential for the story. Sometimes this means that dialogue is cut down to the minimum, but this is good. Unnecessary conversations should never be part of your story.

Three reasons

There are three reasons to use dialogue in a story

To advance your plot
“Let’s go.” said by one of the characters is better than to use the sentence: Peter said that they should go.

To reveal a character
Each word a characters speaks must reveal more about his personality.

To give information
Be very careful with this one, as there is a thin line between giving the reader information or boring them with details. Don’t let your character tell everything in dialogue, but rather use a brief description.

Avoid this!

To write good dialogue is difficult. These are ten things you should avoid when using dialogue in your stories:

Unnatural exchanges
The dialogue doesn’t sound natural. Read it out loud to hear if it is something a person would say.

Similar voices
Make sure each character has its own voice, in other words, each character has a certain way of speaking and a particular vocabulary. This technique also helps you to give more details about the character.

Small talk
Sometimes small talk between characters is added because they haven’t said anything for some time. Dialogue should only be used for immediate action or to reveal emotions or motives of the characters.

Exposition
This is when a character tells a story in dialogue. This is totally the opposite of ‘show don’t tell’.

Names in dialogue
Be careful with using names in dialogue. In conversations in the ‘real world’ names are only used to draw attention or to emphasize a point.

Too many adverbs
Sometimes its better to use the word ‘said’ instead of ‘shout’ or ‘calls’ or ‘whispers’ or any other adverbs. However, always using ‘said’ with dialogue is boring to read. When it is clear who is talking, you don’t have to use any adverbs. Remember that actions, words and body language of a character should convey their mood.

Forgotten dialogue labels
A dialogue label is when you supplement speech with ‘said’ or ‘shout’ or ‘calls’, etc. If a reader has to stop reading because he doesn’t know who is talking, it means you have not used enough dialogue labels. However, keep the previous point in mind!

Wrong punctuation
When a character speaks, those words should be placed between single or double quotes. It doesn’t matter which you use – single or double – as long as you use them consistently!

Insignificant conversations
This is different than number 3 above. If a character will be back the next day or next week, this information doesn’t have to be shared in dialogue, but one character can think of it. Conversations should cause friction or tension and add information. If this is not the case, don’t use dialogue.

Too many conversations
Sometimes silence is more powerful than words. There are times when there are no words to convey a characters feelings; when a character cannot express its own feelings. Use this technique sparingly to make it more effective.

Punctuation and dialogue

When you write dialogue it is important to use the punctuation marks correctly so readers know when someone is talking.

  • Use quotation marks before and after the exact words of a character. Use a full stop inside the quotation marks to indicate the end of the dialogue.
    Example: “Jack will come with us.”
  • Always use a comma before you use the dialogue label. The comma is within the quotation marks.
    Example: “Come on, Jack,” says Sally.
  • When you use the dialogue label before the actual spoken words, you use a colon after the dialogue abel.
    Example: Jack says: “I’m staying.”
  • Use quote marks around each part of divided dialogue and don’t forget the comma before and after the dialogue label.
    Example: “But Jack,” Sally says, “it will be fun.”
  • When you use other punctuation marks, such as exclamation or question marks, you always place it inside the quotation marks.
    Example: “I’m not in the mood! Why do I have to go?” Jack asks.
  • Always start on a new line when another character speaks.

Always remember

Enrich your stories with dialogue, but do not bore you readers with the black on white spoken words.

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