SPA Girls tips for writing effective dialogue
Writing dialogue is a very difficult skill to master, and in this article we try and unravel some of the secrets around how to create dazzling dialogue for your characters. More than just a transcription of what people actually say, dialogue can be witty, fast paced and give insights into your characters… or it can be stilted, awkward and boring. Which would you rather have? dialogue that will make your manuscript sing!
Dialogue is more important in the modern romance than it was many years ago. Readers don’t tolerate redundant info dumps like they used too. Having said that, nor do they tolerate long-winded prose. Getting the balance right is not always easy, but it comes the more you write. Take the time to read some of those authors you love, and see how they had perfected it!
Show rather than tell is vital in any story, and when your characters are speaking, they come to life on the page. They help build tension and drama while driving your plot.
Tips for writing good dialogue
- Don’t put dialogue in your book for the sake of it! We don’t need two people talking and saying nothing of importance!
- Read your dialogue out loud, this helps you to identify and areas that need work.
- Get the balance right between readable and readability. We don’t want to hear all the umms and ahhs that take place in a conversation on the page, like you would do if you were listening to a conversation in real life.
- Every line of dialogue needs to be there for a reason.
- It’s important not to make the characters all sound the same. Men do sound different to women. Each character also has their own way of speaking. We’re not talking about languages, like Scottish, “dinna ken, lassie!” Sometimes this works, but be sure your readers will understand what it is you’re trying to say. We’re talking about the masculine way of speaking, v the feminine. Old v young. A well-bred aristocrat v someone who speaks using a lot of slang or swearing.
- Don’t info dump! Shar calls it, the ‘do you know, Bob,’ conversation. For example: “Do you know Bob, I like that pink trim, it matches the green door. “It does, Jack, but I particularly like the red weatherboards.” BORING!
- Dialogue if done right, like a simple back and forth conversation, can increase the pace of your book. If there are only two people in the conversation you shouldn’t need to add he said, she said constantly.
- Avoid purple prose, which is dialogue that is too elaborate or ornate.
Don’t over do it! ‘Even so, beloved Eva! fair star of thy dwelling! Thou art passing away; but they that love thee dearest know it not.’”
- Don’t overuse words. “I do not want to go to the supermarket today.” Instead of “I’m not going to the supermarket today.” Obviously, there are exceptions, like historical romance, but for the most, don’t!
- Be careful of parroting. “It is a lovely sunset, John.” “Yes, it is a lovely sunset,” said Jill. This will slow the pace of your book down.
- FYI It’s ok to break the rules, just make sure you are doing it right? Go to your keeper shelf and read the books you love. If they’ve broken the rules, usually it’s for a reason, and they’ve done it well.
- Dialogue and action work well. “Get out of here now,” he said angrily, or “Get out of here now!” He slammed his hand down on the table. The second sentence has more punch don’t you think?
Punctuation is important in dialogue, which is why getting your work edited is important. A few basic punctuation tips:
- Each speaker has a new line.
- Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
- Single or double quotation marks around words.
- Dialogue should end with a comma if you’re using a dialogue tag. Use a period if you’re adding an action.
Example – “Penny, I heard you talking today,” Joe said. “I wasn’t happy.”
“What did I say?”
“You know what.” He glared at her.
Easy right? Now go and write some dialogue!
Dialogue is easy. It’s what you’ve been doing almost every day, most of your life.
– Josip Novakovich