How to write dialogue

Dialogue is just writing what the characters of a story say to each other, and it’s a great way to give the reader an insight into a character’s physical appearance, inner thoughts, and personality.  Using dialogue also avoids the need to write lengthy sentences describing those thoughts and that personality.  Some writers think it’s difficult to write dialogue, but if you really get into your character’s head, it can be easy.

What to write when writing dialogue

Since dialogue is a person speaking, that means all the rules of proper English can be tossed out the window.  Most people don’t use proper English when they speak.  They use lots of contractions and slang, and shamelessly dangle their participles all over the place.  People also make up words as they speak, so don’t limit your characters to what you can find in a dictionary.  

By the way, a thesaurus is not your friend when writing dialogue.  Most people use a much more limited vocabulary when speaking than when writing.  Don’t pick a multiple syllable word to substitute for “look”, because most people wouldn’t say “observe” or “peruse”.  They’d just say “look”.

Using languages other than English

If one or more of your characters speaks a language other than English, and uses words in that language in dialogue, it’s best to also give the translation.  If you don’t, the reader will either be clicking between your story and Google Translate, or will just click the back button and read something else.

An example would be if the female character says to her guy, “Fais moi l'amour.  That’s how we French tell a lover to make love to us”.

 A possible exception would be if you want the listener to be confused, but don’t give him time to think about it.  The way to write that might be –

“She whispered, ‘Fais moi l'amour.’ In my ear.  I didn’t know what she was saying, but the way she said it and the way she had her body pressed into mine, I didn’t have to."

Conveying the mood of the speaker

In writing dialogue, it’s important to tell the reader who’s speaking if a back and forth conversation lasts for more than a few lines.  If you don’t the reader will probably get lost and have to read it again to make sense of what you wrote.

It’s easiest to write what a character says and follow that with “she said” to indicate the speaker.  That works some of the time, but the “she said” doesn’t tell the reader anything except which character spoke.  It can also quickly become boring.  Read these changes to the same spoken dialogue and see how changing the tone of the character’s voice changes the meaning of the words.

“That’s really nice”, she giggled.

“That’s really nice”, she sighed.

“That’s really nice”, she moaned.

“That’s really nice”, she snapped.

It also helps to indicate facial expressions and/or body movements as well as tone of voice to indicate the speaker’s mood like in these examples.

She looked at the floor and giggled, “Do you really think that about me?”

She sneered at me when she said, “Do you really think that about me?”

She stroked my chest and purred, “Do you really think that about me?”

She jumped out of the chair, ran to put her arms around my neck and said, “Do you really think that about me?”

Using a few simple words to indicate a speakers mood can help the dialogue paint a picture instead of just telling the reader who’s speaking.

So, start your characters talking instead of writing line after line of text to get your point across.  You’ll find they usually do a much better job than your text, and your readers will be listening to people instead of just reading about characters.

How about you other writers out there?  Do you have any tricks or techniques I missed?  If so, tell us in the comments.