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How to Write Great Dialogue

Dialogue plays a crucial role in writing; it can make or break a character's voice and helps form meaningful relationships between characters. Read on for some tips from Swoon Reads editor Kat Brzozowski to help you craft engaging and realistic dialogue.

By
Kat Brzozowski, Swoon Reads, as read by Mignon Fogarty,
December 15, 2016
Episode #547

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mastering dialogue

We’ve all been out in public, minding our own business, when a distinctive voice caught our ear and we just had to listen to what it was saying. As humans, we’re drawn to interesting conversations, and you want your reader to be just as compelled by your book’s dialogue as they are by fascinating people they love to talk to in real life.

Dialogue has the power to establish a character’s voice, express thoughts that can’t be expressed through exposition, and form relationships between characters.

But how do you craft dialogue that feels real and true to your characters while engaging your reader?

Consider Sentence and Paragraph Length

When you’re writing dialogue, it can be tempting to have your characters talk at length. First, because you created your characters and know them so well, you probably have a lot of ideas about what they would say, and you may be eager to include their best lines in your manuscript. Second, since dialogue is an effective way to give the reader information about your characters, you may feel you have to cover a lot of ground in each conversation.

Instead of writing longer, write smarter! Try to write dialogue that mirrors the way people really talk. This varies from person to person, of course. Some people speak in short, clipped sentences while others like to drone on for minutes with barely a breath’s respite. Generally, though, most people speak in short, concise sentences and let the person they’re talking with respond before they go on. If you have a character who is speaking in big, long blocks of dialogue, consider breaking their dialogue up into shorter, more digestible portions so the reader can follow what’s going on more easily.

Don’t Repeat Things the Characters Already Know

Dialogue can be a great way to tell the reader things they need to know about the characters, the world of your book, and the elements of the plot; and dialogue is vital when you’re trying to have a big effect on your readers. Compare the power of these two sentences. First, “Jimmy turned to Jill, and, with a sigh, said, “I love you.” Second, “Jimmy turned to Jill and, with a sigh, told her he loved her.” The first sentence, when Jimmy actually tells Jill he loves her, feels much more immediate and real than the second sentence, when the narrator tells us Jimmy declared his love, which feels passive and removed by comparison.

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