What Are Some Rules For Writing Dialogue?

When writing a novel, it is necessary, if not necessary, to frequently insert dialogue. For starters, readers get tired of reading descriptions. Then because they enjoy the dialogues, however, for them to be accurate, a few ground rules must be understood and followed.

1. Beware of dialog markings

The tags are the words that we put before or after the dialogue, for example: “he said,” “she asked,” and “I answered.”

Beware of the tendency to put words like “whispered” or “shouted.” Usually, it's enough to put a "He said" and avoid using these add-ons as much as possible. When characters start to “stutter strangely,” “opinion,” or “laugh,” we end up distracting readers from the dialogue itself.

We can usually also avoid adjectives. In good dialogue, readers know what is said “with joy” or “screamed furiously.”

2. Base the dialogue on a scene

It's easy to fall into the trap of puppets, two characters who discuss something without text to support it. All conversations take place somewhere, and that location or scene is essential in the dialogue. In other words, where are the characters? In a busy cafe, driving the car, at home? Who is close to him? Strange people, kids, the boss?

We shouldn't have action or description following every line of dialogue, but we need to create an environment where the characters are physically located.

Telephone dialogues add difficulty. The characters do not face to face, so we can add depth to scenes by using voice tones and adding background noise to scenes.

3. Use dialects and pronunciations with caution

Do not abuse words written in other dialects or with foreign pronunciations. This interferes with understanding the text and can cause other complications, such as making the text offensive or comical for no reason.

Usually, less is more. A Scottish character doesn't need to sound like a Burns poem, just an occasional expression, and the reader gets the idea. Just as if we have a less literate character or who doesn't use grammar correctly, we shouldn't overload the text with these errors. Some expressions will establish the “voice” of the character, not being necessary to remove letters in all the words.

4. Don't let a character monopolize the dialogue

We don't usually speak in our conversations in real life. Sometimes, a person may speak for a few minutes in a lecture or speech, but this is limited to special occasions.

You have to cut the big blocks of speech from a single character. Then, the other characters can ask for clarification, interrupt the speech, or introduce non-verbal responses from the other characters (nodding, sighing, frowning…).

If the plot requires a powerful speech by a single character, it is preferable to show a few sentences from the beginning and the end and present a narrative summary of what was said. This is enough for the reader to understand the story.

5. Realistic Does Not Mean Real

Dialogue should provide a sense of reality, but it should not be a transcript of how we speak. It is not advisable to put in the “hums,” hesitations, and repetitions, because it becomes boring for the reader when we overload him with mannerisms of real conversations.

6. Each character has a distinct speech pattern

Characters can't all sound the same. In reality, each of us has a way of speaking, a “voice” of our own, distinct from all others. In addition to this difference between equals, distinctions are also based on the character's age.

The speech of someone 13 years old is different from someone 70 years old. As well as gender, men and women express themselves differently. Or differences related to social class, and geographical area, among others. All these characteristics are reflected in the verbal crutches used, which change from person to person, and the rhetoric of the character.

A good trick is to separate the dialogue from the characters, remove the tags from the dialogue and the action and see if we can identify who said what.

7. Do not put expository text in the dialog

Sometimes it is necessary to gather information about the characters, but we must not force these clarifications into the dialogue.

Likewise, we must avoid obvious dialogue between characters, that is, dialogue with information that the other character should already know. We must ensure the conversation is appropriate if we want to do that. For example, two friends who haven't seen each other for ten years can catch up and share details about their lives. Here the information would not be evident because the characters did not relate for a certain amount of time.

8. Use silence as well as dialogue

Sometimes what isn't said is more powerful than what is. If one character says "I love you" and the other doesn't say anything in return, it's usually stronger than a response like "OK" or "Too."

When a character refuses to answer a question or to talk to a particular person, we immediately realize that something is going on, without the author being too expository, such as, "John didn't like to talk about his marriage" or “John ignored the call on his cell phone.”

9. Arrive late and leave early

Dialogue does not have to start with the first word and end with the last. For example, if someone is on the phone, cut out the “Hello, how are you?” “Well, what about you?” because the reader is not interested in them, and they add nothing useful to the dialogue.

Another tip is to end a scene on one of the lines of dialogue. We don't need to read the other character's response because the information will underlie the conversation that was going on. So it doesn't need to end with “Goodbye, until next time.”

10. Correctly use the dialog rules

A dialogue must have a line for each character's speech. In addition, you can have double quotes (“for the USA) or single quotes ('UK) to delimit what is said or use the dashes to delimit that text (– Europe). In this last situation, the dash precedes the speech and separates it from the narrator's intervention.

Punctuation must be placed inside the quotation marks, ending a dialog line with a comma if we are adding markup text or with final punctuation (period, ellipsis, or semi-colon) if we are adding an action.

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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