DailyWritingTips

Making Written Dialogue Sound Natural

In storytelling, dialogue is such a powerful tool. It gives life and personality to your characters and keeps your reader engaged. The key to effective dialogue is all about authenticity. It must sound natural as if your characters are real people having genuine conversations.

Why Natural Dialogue Is So Important

Natural dialogue is a cornerstone of effective storytelling. It provides depth to your characters and enables readers to immerse themselves fully in the world you’ve created. When dialogue feels forced or artificial, it can pull your readers out of the story, causing them to lose interest.

What Makes Dialogue Sound Natural

Making Written Dialogue Sound Natural

Natural dialogue mirrors real-life conversation. It’s spontaneous, often imperfect and loaded with personality. It should reflect your characters’ backgrounds, attitudes and emotional states. The words they choose, the rhythm of their speech, and their use of slang or colloquialisms all contribute to the creation of authentic dialogue.

Observing Real-Life Conversations: The Key to Authentic Dialogue

To write dialogue that sounds natural, start by listening to real conversations. Pay attention to how people speak, their use of language, and the rhythm and flow of their exchanges.

Notice the interruptions, the hesitations and the incomplete sentences. Real conversations aren’t always grammatically perfect or fully articulated. Incorporating these elements into your dialogue can lend an authentic feel to your writing.

Using Slang, Dialect and Colloquialisms

Slang, dialect and colloquialisms can add flavor to your dialogue and make your characters more distinct and believable. But they should be used sparingly and purposefully. Overdoing it can sometimes confuse readers or make the dialogue feel contrived.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Slang: “Man, this party is lit! Everyone’s having a blast.”
  • Dialect: “He’s as mad as a box of frogs, that one.”
  • Colloquialism: “I reckon it’s gonna rain any minute now.”

Varying Speech Patterns Based on Characters’ Backgrounds

Characters from different backgrounds will speak differently. A scholar will likely use more complex sentences and vocabulary than a street-savvy hustler. A farmer from the Midwest will have a different dialect than a surfer from California.

Varying speech patterns according to your characters’ backgrounds can make your dialogue more believable and your characters more distinct.

Using Age-Appropriate Speech: How Characters of Different Ages Speak

A child won’t speak the same way as an adult, and an elderly character will have a different speech pattern than a teenager. Paying attention to age-appropriate speech is essential for making dialogue sound natural.

  • Child: “Can we go get ice cream, please?”
  • Teenager: “That concert was epic!”
  • Elderly character: “Back in my day, we didn’t have these fancy gadgets.”

Case Studies: Examples of Natural Dialogue

I’ve taken two snippets from my book, “Wicked Magic,” book one in my Touch of Darkness series about a young woman being forced to attend a secret school for witches. 

Excerpt 1: “Lydia?” a voice said, breaking through the thick fog that filled my head. My grip on the laundry basket loosened, and I forced a smile at my best friend. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I sucked in a deep breath and followed her up the stairs to her apartment. “Just…a lot on my mind, you know?”

And here’s another excerpt from the same book showing a conversation between the main character and her mother.

Excerpt 2: “Lydia!” my mother’s voice rang through the house, and I glanced up to find her standing at the top of the wide staircase. “Where have you been?”

“Hello, Mother,” I rolled my eyes and swiped a glass of gin from a passing tray, downing it in one gulp. “What’s all this?”

Her perfect white pantsuit, washing away under the length of her long blonde hair, barely creased as she descended the stairs toward me with a familiar look of dissatisfaction on her face. “Whatever do you mean?”

I waved my arms around. “I thought we were going to have a small family dinner tonight?” My brow furrowed. “You promised.”

Note how the dialogue uses slang and actions to drive the conversation, as well as the scene, forward in a natural way.

Dos and Don’ts of Writing Natural Dialogue

Dos

  1. Listen to real-life conversations with people around you to understand how people really talk.
  2. Use contractions whenever you can because people rarely speak in full words.
  3. Add interruptions and incomplete sentences for authenticity.

Don’ts

  1. Overuse names in dialogue. People rarely use each other’s names in conversation unless they’re trying to get their attention.
  2. Make all your characters sound the same. Vary your characters’ speech patterns to reflect their unique personalities and backgrounds. Then you can cut out some dialogue tags because the tone and personality in words let the readers know who’s speaking.
  3. Overdo dialects or accents, which can confuse readers and come across as tacky.

Writing natural dialogue is an art. It can bring your characters to life and make your story more immersive and believable. It’s worth the time to hone this skill because effective dialogue can elevate your storytelling.