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The most “realistic” dialogue isn’t that which mimics the language you hear every day; it’s that in which your characters’ voices ring true.

EVERY LINE OF DIALOGUE MUST SERVE A PURPOSE

Dialogue shouldn’t exist solely to give your characters something to say.

Rather, effective literary conversations serve many powerful purposes; they can explore characters, advance the plot, ramp up tension, reveal context, establish mood, and so on.

If you can remove a line of dialogue from your manuscript — or, worse yet, an entire conversation — without impacting readers’ understanding of your story, then there’s a good chance your dialogue lacks strong purpose and direction.

MAKE USE OF BODY LANGUAGE AND EXPRESSION

People say just as much with their expressions and body language as they do with their mouths. Posture, eye contact, mannerisms, and reactions should all play a prominent role in the conversations your characters hold.

WORK WITH THE TENSION OF THE SCENE

In fiction, nearly all dialogue exists to create or resolve tension in some way. After all, it’s tension that keeps readers turning pages, eager to discover what will happen next.

To ensure your story’s dialogue doesn’t stall your story, pay special attention to the threads of tension in each scene. How can you manipulate tension through dialogue in a way that keeps readers engaged?

 BALANCE THE PLAYERS

Crafting dialogue between four or more characters can be tricky. Fortunately, it’s rare that so many voices share equal weight in conversation. When writing such scenes, resist the urge to ensure every character speaks just as much as the next. Instead, let the power dynamics play out naturally.

YOU DON’T NEED TO WRITE EVERY DETAIL

Dialogue doesn’t need to play out word-for-word on the page. Often, it’s easier to work mundane details such as greetings or words of acceptance into the narrative — or to simply allow readers to infer these details for themselves.

Every word you write has the power to bore readers or slow the pace of your story, so make sure you’re choosing your (characters’) words wisely.

 DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET MESSY

Realistic conversations rarely take place in perfect, polite sentences. People are messy, after all — and our dialogue is, too. So don’t be afraid to allow your characters to speak in fragments and unfinished sentences. To eschew grammar and use slang. To curse up a storm.

 

UTILIZE ACTION TAGS INSTEAD

Action tags are the small attributive actions that precede or follow a line of dialogue, such as the following:

Amanda fiddled with the hem of her shirt. “I don’t know if that’s the best idea.”

“Are you sure that’s what you really want?” Brad raised a brow.

Making use of action tags is a great way to attribute dialogue while also keeping readers engaged and adding motion to the scene.

Narrative that spans page after page can become taxing to read, no matter how theoretically exciting it might be. Adding a line or two of dialogue can be a great way to give readers’ eyes a break, especially if you allow your point-of-view character to engage with or react to the world around them.

 

AVOID NAME DROPS

 

 

DITCH UNNECESSARY DIALOGUE TAGS

Dialogue tags exist to clarify who is saying what, with the most common tags being said, asked, and replied. Other common tags (e.g. shouted, whispered, hissed) expound upon how a line of dialogue is said.

Dialogue tags are doubtless an important aspect of fictional conversations, but too many tags can also slow the pace of your story — or even draw readers out of your story entirely. Use them with caution and care.

 

Voice” is a term often applied to the verbal and non-verbal ways a character communicates given their personality, experiences, beliefs, self-esteem, world-view, and cultural influences. The stronger your characters’ voices, the more authentic their conversations will be.

 

Voice” is a term often applied to the verbal and non-verbal ways a character communicates given their personality, experiences, beliefs, self-esteem, world-view, and cultural influences. The stronger your characters’ voices, the more authentic their conversations will be.

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