Writing realistic dialogue is essential for crafting engaging stories and developing memorable characters. In this blog post, we’ll explore techniques for writing believable dialogue that not only sounds natural but also drives the story forward and reveals character personalities. By incorporating these tips and advice, you’ll be well on your way to creating great dialogue in your fiction writing.
The Importance of Realistic Dialogue
Dialogue is a critical component of any story, as it allows characters to communicate, express emotions, and reveal information. Writing realistic dialogue can be challenging, but it is crucial to make your story engaging and believable. Natural dialogue helps to immerse the reader in the story and creates a stronger emotional connection to the characters. It also contributes to the overall flow and pacing of the story, ensuring that readers remain invested and interested.
Crafting Believable Dialogue
“The simplest dialogue tags are often the best” – Reedsy
Dialogue tags are the phrases that indicate who is speaking in a conversation, such as “said,” “asked,” “replied,” or “whispered.” These tags are important for readers to understand the flow of the conversation and to keep track of who is saying what. However, using the same dialogue tag repeatedly can become monotonous and disrupt the flow of the dialogue, making it feel stilted and mechanical.
That’s where varying the dialogue tags comes in. By using a variety of dialogue tags, you can convey different emotions, tones, and levels of intensity in the conversation. For example, if a character is angry or frustrated, you might use “yelled,” “shouted,” or “snapped” instead of “said.” If a character is speaking softly or intimately, you might use “whispered,” “murmured,” or “breathed” instead.
It’s important to choose dialogue tags that accurately reflect the character’s emotions and tone, rather than just randomly inserting different tags for the sake of variety. For instance, if a character is feeling sad, using a dialogue tag like “laughed” would be inappropriate and confusing for the reader.
Additionally, dialogue tags can be complemented by actions or descriptions to add depth and nuance to the dialogue. For example, instead of using a dialogue tag, you might describe how a character speaks, such as “her voice was low and throaty” or “he hesitated before answering.” These details can help bring the conversation to life and create a more vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
In summary, using dialogue tags sparingly and varying them based on the context and character’s emotions can help create more engaging and realistic dialogue. By complementing dialogue tags with actions and descriptions, you can add more depth and nuance to your characters’ conversations, making them feel more authentic and immersive.
Giving your characters distinct speech patterns is an essential part of creating believable and engaging dialogue. Just as in a real-life conversation, the characters in your story should have their own unique way of speaking, including their vocabulary, sentence structure, and tone. Here are some tips and examples for creating distinct speech patterns:
- Consider the character’s background: A character’s background can influence the way they speak. Factors such as their age, gender, region, socio-economic status, education, and personal experiences can all shape their speech patterns. For instance, a character who grew up in a wealthy family might use more formal language and have a larger vocabulary, while a character from a working-class background might use more slang and have a simpler vocabulary.
- A character from a wealthy family might say: “I’m afraid I can’t attend your event, as I have a prior engagement.”
- A character from a working-class background might say: “Sorry, can’t make it. Got somethin’ else goin’ on that day.”
- Use regional dialects: People from different regions often have unique speech patterns and dialects. Consider incorporating regional dialects into your characters’ speech to add authenticity to your story.
- A character from the southern United States might say: “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”
- A character from the northeast United States might say: “I’m walkin’ here!”
- Use unique vocabulary: Each character should have their own vocabulary that reflects their personality and background. A character who is well-read might use more complex words, while a character who is more practical might use simpler language.
- A well-read character might say: “I’m experiencing a modicum of trepidation regarding this matter.”
- A practical character might say: “I’m kinda worried about this thing.”
- Use unique sentence structure: The way a character constructs their sentences can also reflect their personality and background. A character who is analytical might use longer, more complex sentences, while a character who is more straightforward might use shorter, simpler sentences.
- An analytical character might say: “After analyzing the data, I have concluded that the most logical course of action would be to proceed with caution.”
- A straightforward character might say: “I’ve looked at everything, and we should be careful.”
- Use unique tone: The tone of a character’s speech can reveal a lot about their personality and emotions. A character who is angry might speak in a louder, more forceful tone, while a character who is sad might speak in a softer, more subdued tone.
- An angry character might say: “I can’t believe you did that! How could you be so thoughtless?”
- A sad character might say: “I just feel really lost right now. I don’t know what to do.”
In summary, creating distinct speech patterns for your characters is an important part of developing their personality and making them feel more realistic. By paying attention to the way people speak in real life and incorporating those observations into your
Body Language and Non-Verbal Cues
Realistic dialogue goes beyond mere words. Including body language and non-verbal cues in your writing can help convey emotions and create more vivid scenes. Use these cues to add depth to your characters and make their conversations more engaging. Describe facial expressions, gestures, and posture to provide context and enrich the dialogue. This added layer of detail will make your characters feel more real and relatable to readers.
The Importance of Non-Verbal Cues
Non-verbal cues can reveal a lot about a character’s emotions and thoughts. A simple nod of the head or a shrug of the shoulders can convey meaning that words alone cannot. Including these cues in your writing can help create a more immersive experience for your readers, allowing them to understand the underlying emotions and motivations behind the dialogue.
Here’s an example:
Samantha sat across from her boss, nervously tapping her foot under the table. She had just presented her ideas for a new marketing campaign, and the silence that followed was making her uneasy. Her boss leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers thoughtfully.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally spoke. “I appreciate your creativity, Samantha. But I’m not sure this is the direction we want to go in.”
Samantha’s heart sank. She had worked tirelessly on this proposal, and she couldn’t bear the thought of it being rejected. She forced a smile and nodded her head in understanding, but her body language betrayed her disappointment.
Her boss noticed the subtle shift in her posture and reached across the table to pat her hand. “Don’t worry, Samantha. We’ll find something that works for both of us.”
By including Samantha’s non-verbal cues, such as tapping her foot and nodding her head, the reader is able to understand the emotions and thoughts underlying the dialogue. It creates a more immersive experience for the reader and helps to convey the tension and disappointment in the scene.
Resource: Verywell Mind’s article discusses different types of nonverbal communication and provides examples, such as greeting an old friend at a restaurant with a hug, handshake, or fist bump, and placing your hand on someone’s arm when they are talking to you at a party to convey friendliness or concern .
Describing Facial Expressions
Facial expressions are a key non-verbal cue that can reveal a character’s emotions. Describing a character’s facial expressions can help readers visualize the scene and understand the tone of the conversation. For example, a character who is angry might furrow their brow and clench their jaw, while a character who is sad might have tears in their eyes and a downcast gaze.
Gestures can also provide important context and meaning to a character’s dialogue. For instance, a character who is nervous might fidget with their hands or bite their nails, while a character who is confident might stand tall and make expansive gestures. By including these details in your writing, you can create more dynamic and engaging scenes that feel true to life.
Posture can also be used to convey a character’s emotions and personality. A character who is closed off or defensive might cross their arms over their chest or hunch their shoulders, while a character who is open and receptive might stand with their arms at their sides and their shoulders relaxed. By describing a character’s posture, you can provide additional context to their dialogue and help readers better understand their mindset.
Adding Depth to Your Characters
By including body language and non-verbal cues in your writing, you can add an additional layer of depth to your characters. These cues can reveal aspects of their character’s personality, and motivations that might not be immediately obvious from their words alone. By paying attention to these details and incorporating them into your writing, you can create more realistic and relatable characters that readers will care about.
Here’s an example:
As Jane entered the crowded party, she immediately felt overwhelmed. She scanned the room, searching for a familiar face. Her eyes landed on a group of people laughing and chatting by the bar. She took a deep breath and made her way over to them.
As she approached, she noticed that one of the women in the group had her arms crossed tightly over her chest, a defensive posture. The woman’s shoulders were hunched up towards her ears, as if she were trying to shield herself from the world.
Jane introduced herself and tried to make small talk, but the woman’s closed-off body language made her feel unwelcome. Eventually, she excused herself and moved on to another group of people.
Later in the evening, Jane found herself talking to a man who stood with his arms at his sides and his shoulders relaxed. He listened attentively to her stories, nodding and smiling in all the right places. She felt a sense of ease around him, and they ended up talking for hours.
By describing the posture of the characters, the reader can better understand their emotions and personalities. The woman with the defensive posture is closed off and unwelcoming, while the man with the relaxed posture is open and receptive. This additional context helps the reader to better understand Jane’s interactions with each character and adds depth to the scene.
Writing Dialogue that Drives the Story Forward
Good dialogue should not only sound natural but also move the story forward. Each line of dialogue should serve a purpose, whether it’s revealing character traits, providing essential information, or creating tension. Avoid including small talk or unnecessary conversations that may bore readers and detract from the story’s momentum. Instead, focus on crafting dialogue that contributes to plot and character development throughout, deepens character relationships, and maintains reader interest.
Avoiding Small Talk and Unnecessary Conversations
One of the most common mistakes writers make when crafting dialogue is including small talk or unnecessary conversations. While these may seem like a way to add realism to your story, they can quickly bore readers and detract from the story’s momentum. Instead, focus on crafting dialogue that is essential to the plot and reveals something important about the characters or their relationships.
Crafting Effective Dialogue
So, how do you craft effective dialogue? Here are some tips:
- Keep it concise: Dialogue that rambles on or is too long can lose the reader’s attention. Keep your dialogue concise and to the point.
- Make it sound natural: Dialogue should sound like something people would actually say, but also keep in mind that it’s not real speech. You should avoid things like filler words or stutters, and make sure the dialogue flows well.
- Use subtext: Dialogue can be a great way to reveal what characters are thinking or feeling without directly stating it. Use subtext to add depth to your dialogue and create tension.
- Use conflict: Conflict is essential in storytelling, and dialogue can be a great way to create it. Use dialogue to create tension between characters and move the plot forward.
- Show, don’t tell: Instead of having characters directly state their feelings or motivations, use dialogue to show them through their actions or reactions.
Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue
Observe Real-Life Conversations
One of the best ways to improve your dialogue writing skills is by observing real-life conversations. Pay attention to how people speak, the rhythm of their speech, and the way they express emotions. Use these observations to inform your own writing and make your characters’ dialogue more realistic. Listen to conversations in various settings and write realistic dialogue between people of different backgrounds to gain a better understanding of how speech patterns and vocabulary can vary.
Imagine you’re a writer who wants to improve your dialogue writing skills. You decide to visit a coffee shop and observe the conversations happening around you. You pay attention to how people speak and the nuances of their speech.
You hear a group of friends catching up, and you notice how they interrupt each other, finish each other’s sentences, and use slang and informal language. You jot down some notes on the rhythm and flow of their conversation.
Later, you overhear a couple having a tense discussion. You notice how they speak more slowly and deliberately, with longer pauses and more formal language. You observe how their body language and facial expressions convey their emotions.
As you continue to write dialogue and to observe conversations in different settings, you start to develop a better understanding of how people speak in different situations. You begin to incorporate these observations into your writing, creating more realistic and believable dialogue for your characters.
Cut Out the Fluff
Great dialogue is often economical, meaning it conveys essential information without being overly wordy. Remove any unnecessary words or phrases from your characters’ dialogue, leaving only what is needed to convey the intended meaning. This will help your dialogue feel more focused and impactful, allowing readers to better understand the significance of each conversation within the story.
John and Jane are two characters in a story. They are discussing a plan to rob a bank.
Before editing: John: “Okay, so we need to go in, grab the money, and get out before the cops arrive. It’s important that we move quickly and don’t waste any time. We don’t want to get caught or attract attention to ourselves.”
Jane: “I agree. We should be in and out as fast as possible. The longer we stay, the greater the risk of getting caught. We need to be smart about this.”
After editing: John: “We grab the money and leave. Fast.”
Jane: “Agreed. No wasted time. Let’s be smart.”
In the edited version, the dialogue is more concise and focused. The unnecessary words and phrases are removed, leaving only the essential information. This creates a sense of urgency and tension, highlighting the importance of the conversation within the story.
Vary Sentence Structure
Real people don’t speak in perfectly constructed sentences. To create natural-sounding dialogue, vary your sentence structure by using incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, and varying sentence lengths. This will help your dialogue feel more like a real conversation and reflect the way people speak in real life. Experiment with different sentence structures to create a more authentic and dynamic flow in your characters’ conversations.
Here’s an example of dialogue that incorporates varied sentence structures to create a more natural-sounding conversation:
“So, what are you up to tonight?” “Not much, just hanging out at home. You know, watching some TV, maybe reading a book or two.” “Sounds pretty boring. You should come out with us instead.” “I don’t know, I’m kind of tired. Plus, I’m broke until payday.” “Well, we’re just going to grab a couple of drinks and catch up. It doesn’t have to be a big night out or anything.” “I guess that could be fun. What time were you thinking?”
In this example, the dialogue incorporates a mix of complete and incomplete sentences, as well as varying sentence lengths. This helps to create a more natural flow developing voice, and rhythm to the conversation, making it feel more like a real-life exchange between two people.
Adapting Dialogue for Different Genres and Age Groups
Writing Dialogue for Children’s Literature
When writing dialogue for children’s literature, consider the age and comprehension level of your target audience. Use age-appropriate vocabulary and sentence structures while still maintaining a natural, conversational tone. Be mindful of themes and subject matter, ensuring that the dialogue is suitable for younger readers. Engaging dialogue in children’s literature can help young readers develop their language skills, spark their imagination, and foster a love for reading.
Here’s an example of dialogue in children’s literature that takes into account the age and comprehension level of the target audience:
“Hey, Timmy, do you want to come over and play with my new toy car?” asked Billy, holding up a shiny red car.
Timmy looked up at Billy with wide eyes and nodded enthusiastically. “Wow, that looks so cool! Can I drive it too?”
“Sure, we can take turns. But first, let’s make sure we ask our moms if it’s okay to come over and play.”
“Okay, let’s go ask them now!” Timmy exclaimed, grabbing his coat.
In this dialogue, the vocabulary and sentence structures are appropriate for young readers, and the conversation is relatable and conversational in tone. The subject matter is also appropriate for children, as it revolves around a common childhood activity of playing with toys. The dialogue helps to engage young readers, encourage their language development, and promote a love of reading.
Adjusting Dialogue for Historical Fiction and Time Periods
In historical fiction, it’s essential to consider the time period and location of your story when crafting dialogue. Research the language and speech patterns of the era to create authentic and believable dialogue that transports readers to the story’s setting.
This may involve using period-specific slang, idioms, and expressions, as well as capturing the cadence and rhythm of speech from that time. Be cautious not to overdo it, as excessive use of historical language can make the dialogue feel forced or difficult to understand. Strive for a balance that maintains authenticity while remaining accessible to modern readers.
Here’s an example of a passage that demonstrates the importance of considering the time period and location of a story when crafting dialogue in historical fiction:
As John walked down the street, he overheard a group of men talking about the upcoming election. Their speech was peppered with phrases and idioms that were unfamiliar to him, but he knew that he needed to understand the local vernacular if he wanted to fit in. He listened intently, trying to pick up on the cadence and rhythm of their speech.
Eventually, he mustered the courage to join the conversation, carefully choosing his words and trying to mimic the way the other men spoke. It wasn’t easy, but he knew that he had to make an effort if he wanted to be accepted in this new place.
In this example, the author uses language and speech patterns that would have been common during the time period and location of the story. The use of phrases like “the local vernacular” and “cadence and rhythm of their speech” help to transport readers to the setting of the story, while also demonstrating the importance of using historically accurate language in dialogue. The author also notes that it’s important to strike a balance between authenticity and accessibility, which is a key consideration when crafting dialogue in historical fiction.
Developing a Strong Voice for Each Character
Consistency is crucial when it comes to each character’s voice. Develop distinct speech patterns and mannerisms for each character, and make sure they remain consistent throughout the story. This will help readers differentiate between different characters and form stronger connections with them. Take into consideration each character’s background, motivations, and emotions when crafting their dialogue, and allow their voice to evolve as they grow and change throughout the story. By giving each character a unique and consistent voice, you’ll create more engaging and memorable characters that resonate with readers.
Writing believable dialogue is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. By observing real-life conversations, cutting out unnecessary fluff, and adapting your dialogue to suit different genres and age groups, you can create engaging and authentic dialogue that brings your characters to life. Remember that developing a strong voice for each character and ensuring that dialogue drives the story forward is essential for crafting immersive and memorable stories. Keep honing your dialogue-writing skills, and don’t be afraid to experiment and find your own unique voice and style as a writer.
About Willow Tenny
Willow Tenny is a passionate blogger and writer with a deep love for the written word. With a background in creative writing and journalism, Willow has dedicated her career to helping aspiring writers hone their skills and create captivating stories. Through her insightful blog posts, she covers a wide range of topics in writing, from crafting believable dialogue to developing memorable characters.