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.

Kat Brzozowski, Swoon Reads, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #547

Writers can sometimes fall into the trap of including information in dialogue that the character who is being spoken to already knows. Watch out for dialogue that includes phrases like “you know,” “I already told you,” and “remember when.” Phrases like these indicate that your speaking character is repeating something that the person they’re talking to already knows, which can leave the dialogue feeling forced rather than natural.

Avoid Creative Dialogue Tags and Adverbs

Dialogue tags are the verbs used to indicate how the dialogue is spoken. The most common ones include “said” and “asked,” but there are countless dialogue tags available to writers. However, even though so many dialogue tags exist, using one of the more common dialogue tags is often the best choice. Why? Varying your dialogue tags and using phrases like “she chortled” and “he threatened” can distract the reader and draw attention away from the dialogue. Use these less common dialogue tags sparingly. 

Dialogue tags are the verbs used to indicate how the dialogue is spoken. 

In addition, avoid explaining how dialogue was spoken by following your dialogue tag with an adverb. For example, if your character says, “I’m angry,” you can simply use the dialogue tag “he said “rather than “he said angrily.” Since you’re already telling us he’s angry through dialogue, there’s no need to repeat the information.

The Final Check: Read Your Dialogue Out Loud

One surefire way to make sure your dialogue is working is to read it out loud. Find a friend to reenact the dialogue like you’re reading a script, or read both parts yourself! This will help you catch spots where the dialogue feels forced, lengthy, or clunky. Are there any phrases you trip over? Do any of the sentences feel more formal or rehearsed than how most people talk? Your ear can pick up things that your eyes can’t, so reading your dialogue to yourself in the final stage of revision is a great way to make sure it rings true. You can even record yourself using a voice recording app on your phone and listen to it later when you have a little distance from the writing. Ask yourself if it would the the kind of audiobook you’d like to listen to.

Have other questions? Swoon Reads is happy to answer them for you! Check out their writing guide and e-mail them any of your pressing questions on writing, the editorial process, or about publishing in general at swoonreads@macmillanusa.com

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

a writer at a typewriter wonders how to write great dialogue


About the Author

Kat Brzozowski, Swoon Reads, Writing for Grammar Girl

Kat Brzozowski is a senior editor at Swoon Reads and Feiwel and Friends. Originally from New Hampshire, she now lives in New Jersey, where she spends her time between eating dumplings, watching “Survivor,” and doing embroidery, sometimes all at the same time.

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