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10 Tips to Write Great Dialogue

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Various speech bubbles in orange, red, and blue

Various speech bubbles in orange, red, and blue

Quotations and Whatnot

For many stories and other pieces of writing, effective dialogue is massively important. However, many writers feel like they aren't very good at writing dialogue. Some people even like to claim that writing dialogue is just something you either have an ear for or you don't.

While some people might be more inclined to writing dialogue than others, that doesn't mean that there aren't some tricks to help someone write more effectively.

Read! Read! Read! (And watch)

The biggest piece of advice thrown around my writers when any of us have any struggles, is to simply read more. This advice is repeated so often that it can feel like a punchline. In this case, however, it isn't a punchline. By reading or even hearing dialogue we think is good, we can start to pick up on the small things that make it great. So reread your favorite book, or justify streaming another season of your favorite television show!

Imitation is Flattery

People often say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They're not wrong! Especially when it comes to writing. As mentioned before, if you like the dialogue of something you watch or read, there's probably a reason... And you're probably not alone. Try to imitate that style with something you write sometime. Study the flow and energy of the piece you're studying and "steal" it. What is writing but stealing from the world around us? Influence is everywhere!

Listen

Have you ever "people watched" before? That being, going to a public space and staying far away from others and just watching them, observing them. Maybe at a mall or a park.

People watching is a little bit strange to some people, but the observation is good for any writer. In case of writing good dialogue, you should do more than just observing. You should also be people listening. Studying how people, both those around you and strangers, speak is a great way to grab a hold of dialogue that sounds natural.

Don't be Afraid to Delete

Now, I am a strong supporter of never permanently deleting things you write. In this age of the internet, it is easier than ever to keep a document full of old drafts and cut lines. These things can help you demonstrate your growth to yourself, and also never know when you'll want to revisit an idea or concept or even just reuse a cut line.

That being said, even if you think a line is okay, if it isn't doing it for you, why not delete it and paste it in a different document for later. Dialogue might be effective, but if you're not happy with it, why not rewrite it? Just don't stuck in the loop of writing and rewriting.

Speak it!

In real life, and in mediums such as playwriting and screenwriting, dialogue is something we hear rather than something we read. If you're looking to make dialogue that comes off as realistic, you have to be reading your dialogue out loud. If you're not hearing your dialogue, you're not going to find the things that make it sound wrong in your head.

Hear it!

Even beyond saying your dialogue, the biggest trick of them all is make someone else read it out loud. This is something that playwrights swear by, and not just because that's simply how plays work, small reading groups are useful even early in the drafting process. When other people read out loud, you get a better look into hoe your audience would hear na line, and how it sounds more objectively.

Rewrite it!

Maybe the problem is simply that one line messed up the flow of the piece. Try rewriting your dialogue all together to see if that problem is just a case by case basis type of problem!

Scrap It!

In lots of mediums, dialogue simply shouldn't be the focus of a scene. Try writing your scene, moment, or even something entirely separate, without using any dialogue whatsoever. This can be hard, but it will help you develop your writing skills while also helping you see where your dialogue is most needed.

Write a Play!

As mentioned earlier, playwrights tend to know a thing or two about dialogue. While writing for the theatre isn't solely about writing dialogue, it is the part that playwrights often the most control over. Writing a play, even a short one, can be a good way to exercise your dialogue writing skills. Plus! It is very fun!

Step Away

Sometimes the problem with dialogue is that you're simply obsessing over it. Like a lot of parts of writing, writers often get stuck on perfecting it. At the point where the frustration is overwhelming, or nothing looks or feels right, it is time to step away and take a break for a while. Whether it is moving on to a different part of your story to write, or it is just taking a walk to clear your mind. Obsessing on the minute aspects of something often only make it worse.

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