6 tips for writing better dialogue

Dialogue is important. I think we can all agree on that.

For me, it’s one of the first things that come to me when working on a story. The characters have conversations in my head, and the scene develops around them.

It’s one of my favorite parts of writing, honestly.

So, today, I want to share some tips to help you get your dialogue down in a way that’s easy to read and feels natural.

Said is not dead.

Said/says are viable dialogue tags, but a lot of writers seem to think it’ll make their writing boring somehow to use “said” instead of “whispered” or “spat” or “hissed” or any of the other million dialogue tag options.

But there’s a reason said/says is kinda the standard.

It’s neutral.

Aside from the fact that it’s just the basic action of speaking, it’s virtually invisible. The word said is a background word, something most readers don’t notice unless the book is just dialogue heavy and there are no other tags attached to dialogue.

Things like “crooned” or “shouted” are more active. They change the way the dialogue is interpreted. The reader has to actually engage with that word to interpret the things your characters say appropriately.

And though it may be an infinitesimal difference in reading time, there is a bit of a difference. Refusing to use “said” means that every time a character speaks, there’s that little split second delay of applying the manner of speech to the words spoken. Not only does that add up, it gets annoying.

So, said/says should probably be your primary dialogue tag. Others should be sprinkled over the manuscript.

Certain grammatical rules don’t apply to speech.

People do not speak with proper grammar. We say “towards” instead of “toward.” We use contractions, saying “can’t” instead of “can not” most of the time.

This should be reflected in your characters’ speech patterns unless you’re writing a character who’s unbelievably proper.

Or if you’re writing a historical regency romance.

Go easy with the slang.

Just because we don’t speak properly doesn’t mean every other word should be a slang term. Slang happens and should be a part of your dialogue (though it should be customized to the world/characters).

But it shouldn’t sound like a parody where someone is trying to be cool and failing miserably.

Dialects/Accents can be distracting when typed out.

It’s unbelievably tempting to type things up according to a character’s accent or dialect. But there is a risk associated with that.

It can be distracting or difficult for people who don’t use that dialect to understand.

But they might also be the thing that really defines the character (if done well).

As with most things in writing, it’s all a matter of doing it well. Every rule can be broken (if you do it well). Every trope can be subverted or embodied with great results (if done well).

And accents and dialects are no exception.

Get it right, and it might be the thing that makes a character relatable or endearing or swoon-worthy (depending on what you’re writing).

New paragraph for a new speaker.

For the love of everything that’s still good in this world, start a new paragraph when you switch speakers. It gets so hard to keep track of things when there are multiple speakers in one paragraph.

And it’s such a simple fix.

Just hit enter.

Personally, this is something that will make me stop reading a book. If I can’t tell who’s speaking, I can’t keep track of the characters’ motives, fears, or relationships. And the characters are the main reason I read.


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