How To Write Dialogue Between Two Characters

Dialogue is described as "a conversation between two or more people as characteristic of a book, play, or film" by the Oxford Dictionary. However, writing dialogue involving more than two characters can be challenging when using the word "or more." So how do you write conversations between multiple characters who are present in the same scene? Here are some suggestions to aid you:

Arrange your characters neatly within the scene

In a play, it's easy to tell who's talking most of the time because the characters are positioned on stage, so we know where each voice is coming from. Of course, we don't have this auditory element in a book. To write a dialogue between several characters and make it clear, start by placing them well.

For example, imagine a tense situation in a kitchen. If you have one character in the middle of the activity (chopping onions, for example) and the other two are standing by a sink, you can show who is speaking by including these "staging" elements:

Sarah was chopping onions, squinting her eyes hard, trying not to cry.

"Could you please stop arguing for a second?"

Tom turned to wash his hands, grumbling.

"I just came to wash my hands."

"Why do we always end up talking about politics?" Sarah said.

"Because your political party sucks," Judy said.

Here are some basic actions and scene elements: we know there is a table where vegetables are cut and a sink where hands can be washed. They help us understand where the characters stand about one another.

Write dialogues between various characters without the close-ups of the cinema.

Another convention we use differently in writing than in film and television is "close-up. A character's face may be shown up close in a series if that character delivers an especially moving, amusing, or seductive line. We must use the character description in the book dialogues to create these effects.

When there are more than two characters in a scene, it can be helpful to show characters' faces to illustrate how they respond to dialogue. Your story may begin to sound like a children's book or soap opera if every new line of dialogue is a description of a face.

Even though it's not "wrong," balance is essential. So, for example, when Tom washes his hands, the continued focus on the characters' facial expressions is at least diverted and given variety.

Use dialog dimensions only when necessary.

Dialogue stage directions are a necessary evil: use too many of them in a conversation between characters, and your reader will notice your presence. Precisely the opposite of what you're looking for.

For example, you could solve the problem of how to write a dialogue between multiple characters simply by putting "[character name] said" after each sentence:

  • "I want to go to the beach," James said.
  • "Ugh, too much sand," said Jane.
  • "You're a spoilsport," Sarah said.

Not all of this isn't good. The differences between the characters' voices are at least apparent: Jane is more dramatic and perhaps a little pessimistic. Sarah sounds like the group's critic due to her accusatory demeanor. James' voice is more subdued because all he is doing is making a clear wish.

Still, the final placement of each dialog tag is clunky. You could rewrite the same thing, but this way:

  • I want to go to the beach.
  • "Ugh, why, James?" there is too much sand!
  • "You're a spoilsport," Sarah replied (or said).

Here's why the above is preferable:

  • Until the following line, we are unsure who mentioned going to the beach.
  • The author's presence is more subtle (there is less of a sense of “here the author is using stage directions to show who is speaking”); bounding is less intrusive.
  • Some tags are replaced with gesture and action, emphasizing the emotion behind the characters' words ("Jane flinched")
  • We know who said the first line thanks to another character who used the speaker's name in response; the context provides some information.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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