This blog was featured on 09/19/2017
Writing Realistic Dialogue
Contributor
Written by
Stephanie Elliot
September 2017
Contributor
Written by
Stephanie Elliot
September 2017

Have you ever been immersed in a book only to read some dialogue that stops you in your tracks, and not in the good way? I’m talking unrealistic dialogue, where you stop reading and think to yourself, “No way, that doesn’t sound right to me.”

Whether the voice is off, or the sentence just sounds wrong, bad dialogue can disrupt your whole reading experience. Here are a few tips on making your dialogue as real as it can be:

1.Your character’s name isn’t necessary all the time.

Omit a character’s name when writing dialogue. For instance:

“Hi Mark, how’s your afternoon?”

“Hey Jill, it’s been a great afternoon.”

Dialogue tags, or attribution tags, can take care of the names for you. And generally, after setting up the scene, it’s not hard for readers to determine who’s speaking and when. (An exception is when one character needs to get the attention of another, of course.)

2. Take short-cuts.

Rarely do people speak in complete sentences in real life, and, realistically when having a conversation, people speak in contractions, saying ‘won’t’ instead of ‘would not’ and ‘can’t’ instead of ‘cannot.’ Don’t write so that your characters sound stilted and forced. You want it to flow; you want it be believable.

3. Read your dialogue out loud.

If you’re not sure how your dialogue sounds, read it out loud. This is the very best way to tell if your characters sound like real people having a conversation. If, while reading, it sounds robotic, clean it up. Make it snappy and quick—conversation flows and so should your dialogue.

4. Stay true to your character and his or her traits.

If you have a character who always says, ‘Um,’ make sure he or she does this throughout the book. It’s also fun to give characters specific traits so your reader can determine who’s speaking without using attribution. If your character Carl says, “Hey now” all the time, stay consistent with that. Then you’re reader will get in tune with your characters—as soon as he reads the “Hey now” he will know it’s Carl speaking.

You can create a character who doesn’t talk much, is light on words, and make her only respond with one-word answers. Get creative so your readers will know and feel your characters through their words.

5. Don’t use too much dialogue.

A perfect book has a nice mix of dialogue and description. Not everyone has to talk all the time for your story to be good or for you to get your point across.

6. Practice.

One of the most fun writing exercises I ever did was in a creative writing class where our teacher had us write out a scene between two characters using only dialogue. Don’t describe the scene, don’t tell us anything about your characters, and don’t use attribution tags. Try this and see what you come up with. Can you easily differentiate each character? What can your characters say that will indicate what their personalities are like?

These are just a few suggestions on how to make your dialogue sound real. What do you do when you’re writing dialogue to make it sound as realistic as possible? I’d love to hear your tips too!

 

Stephanie Elliot is the author of the young adult novel, Sad Perfect. She is also an editor, blogger, book reviewer, wife, mom, and reformed Diet Coke drinker. To connect with her please visit www.stephanieelliot.com.

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Comments
  • Pamela Fender

    I always suggest, because I do this myself, to read the entire piece aloud, even if you're writing an entire novel.