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5 Tips to Writing Dialogue

Recently I was talking to someone who wanted to try her hand at writing fiction, but she feared having to write dialogue. She said she could write passages of character description and location easily and she could even come up with ideas for scenes. But she feared having to make the characters speak.  As we continued to talk I began to show her how she could approach the problem.

“Think about what we’re doing,” I told her. “We’re sitting here.We’re drinking a glass of wine, and we’re talking.”

“But how would I do dialogue?” she asked. “How can I put words in other character’ mouths?”

I am repeating this conversation because that was my first lesson to her as I began to consider how to show her how to write dialogue.

1     1. Learn the proper punctuation and how dialogue is written in a passage. That is a good part of what was bothering her. She wasn’t certain of the formatting, and as I showed how it was done, that took away some of her misgivings.

2    2. Listen to other people’s conversations and how others speak. The more you do that the more you will notice how unique people are in their speech patterns. I once heard a best selling author say that writers are the world’s best eavesdroppers and I believe it. Listening to different people talk can give the writer ideas for making your characters sound different.
3. Don’t be afraid to experiment. When you are doing that eavesdropping, try writing a scene around it. Sitting in a hospital waiting room once I overheard the woman next to me on the phone complaining about her daughter’s drug problem. I found myself writing the other half of the conversation to go with what the woman was saying. It was simply an exercise, but I saw it as a way to sharpen my writing of dialogue. What would I say to answer the woman? And how was she speaking? Was she shouting at times? Was she pleading?
       4. Write only the dialogue portion and then fill in the descriptive part of your scene and any dialogue tags later. By focusing only on what the characters are saying, often it is easier to write the scene. You can edit later or right after you right the dialogue scene.
      5.   Put the feeling in the dialogue itself  and don’t constantly use dialogue tags. Putting in action can often replace a tag so that you don’t end up with a bunch of “he said,” or trying to put in other tags to let the reader know who is speaking.

I’ve always enjoyed writing dialogue because I like to hear my characters speak and often I write the dialogue first and then come back and fill in the rest of the scene, but that is just my preference. The point is to know that your story will always need dialogue, but don’t let it frighten you. Look around and listen and you will find that writing conversation isn’t such a frightening prospect after all.   


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