Writing Convincing Dialogue for Characters

Dialogue is one of the most powerful tools in character development and plot progression. When done correctly, it can add depth to your characters, advance the storyline, and pull readers further into your story world. But writing convincing dialogue takes some finesse.

What Is Dialogue in Writing?

Dialogue is the conversation between two or more characters. It provides a way for characters to interact, share information, reveal their thoughts and feelings, and bring conflict and drama to your story.

How Much Dialogue Do You Need?

The amount of dialogue in a story depends on the genre, plot and the characters involved. Some stories are dialogue-heavy, and others may use dialogue sparingly while relying on narrative to progress their work. The key is to strike a balance between dialogue and narrative, ensuring that both contribute to the overall storytelling.

Good Dialogue vs. Bad Dialogue

Good Dialogue vs. Bad Dialogue

Good dialogue sounds natural, is relevant to the storyline, and reveals character traits or advances the plot. However, bad dialogue is usually stilted or used excessively without serving any sort of real purpose.

  • Good dialogue: “Can you pass the salt, darling?” my father asked without taking his eyes off the newspaper. His voice was a monotone, matching the gray hues of his mood.
  • Bad dialogue: “Can you pass the salt so I don’t have to set down my newspaper?” Dad asked flatly.

Using Dialogue to Progress the Scene

Dialogue can be used to reveal key plot points or evoke emotional responses from characters. It can make a scene pivot on a dime, reveal new information, or create and resolve conflicts.

Here’s a great example from one of my own books that shows how you use dialogue to move a scene along and create a visual of the characters interacting.

“Tom’s making a trip into the city tomorrow if you’ve got anything else left to go to the apartment,” Julie said as she wrangled her long golden hair into a messy knot and added another old book to her ever-growing pile. One last purchase with her employee discount, no doubt.

I’d stopped correcting her about calling her dad by his first name years ago. As much as she loved them, I knew Julie never truly considered them parents. At ten years old, they’d just adopted her too late in life. But there was mutual respect the three of them shared, and I admired it. Wished for years that Tess would show the same to me instead of coddling me like an infant.

“Yeah, I’ve got a couple large duffels that won’t fit on my bike,” I replied as I thumbed through a musty edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I closed the leather-bound cover and waggled it at her. “I’m getting this.”

“I’ll get him to swing by.” She took the book and smiled as she added some notes to papers on a clipboard. When she caught me eying her inventory list, she said, “Birthday present.”

Tips for Writing Convincing Dialogue

  • Keep it natural and relatable: Think about how your characters would really talk. In fact, read it out loud and ask yourself if it’s how real people would converse.
  • Use contractions: Most of us use contractions when we’re talking to others. Your characters should, too.
  • Vary dialogue tags: Avoid using “said” too often.
  • Use body language: Physical actions can add depth to the dialogue.

Things to Avoid When Writing Dialogue

  • Info-dumping: Don’t use dialogue as an excuse to dump information on the reader.
  • Using too many adverbs: Adverbs can weaken your dialogue.
  • Making all your characters sound alike: Differentiate characters through their dialogue.
  • Writing lengthy, boring monologues: Break up lengthy dialogues with actions and interruptions to maintain reader interest.
  • Constantly addressing other characters by name: Avoid having your characters name the other characters whenever possible. It should be evident who they’re talking to.

Creating convincing dialogue requires practice and a keen ear for how people communicate. Remember to balance dialogue with narrative and keep it natural, purposeful and always varied.