Last Updated on July 20, 2022 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD
Dialogue is an essential part of any story. It can be used to move the plot forward, deepen characterization and foreshadow upcoming events.
The way you use dialogue in your story will depend on various factors, including genre, setting, and tone, but some general guidelines apply to all stories.
15 useful tips for crafting excellent dialogues between characters in your fiction
Well-written dialogues make your characters come alive on the pages, show their thoughts, emotions, and inner conflict like no other element can do.
These useful tips will help you create dialogues between characters that will captivate your readers and bring your words to life.
Give characters distinct voices
The most important thing about writing good dialogue is giving each character their voice so readers can tell them apart just by reading their words without ever seeing their names or hearing their thoughts:
“I’m going after him!” he shouted angrily as he tore off down the street after his attacker.
The speaker is a man, and the way he speaks will probably be quite different from how a woman would say the same sentence.
Use contractions in dialogue
Contractions add familiarity to your characters’ voices, so use them for casual conversation.
You can use contractions to ratchet the emotion in an argument between characters quickly, but try not to overuse them.
Use beats in dialogue
Beats are short lines of action that precede or follow a line of dialog, focusing on what a speaker is doing before and after their lines.
Beats can be as simple as a character grabbing another character’s wrist to keep him from leaving the room or belting out, “No! Don’t go.”
Beats can also show how a line of dialogue is said—whether angrily, skeptically, or with disbelief:
Annoyed, Tom slammed his hands down on the table between them. “You’re going to have to stop this, Kayla. I can’t go on like this.
Beats should quickly show the nature of the action and only be used occasionally if you want your characters’ dialogue to stand out.
Use the power of suggestion
The writer’s job is to show readers what is happening in a scene, so you should write in full sentences and avoid dialogue tags as much as possible. But if you do use a dialogue tag, take advantage of the power of suggestion to show how your characters are speaking.
“You can’t go out in that dress! It’s too revealing and far too sexy for church,” Thomas said sternly.
Thomas isn’t actually saying what he is doing when he utters those words. Still, by adding the dialogue tag, ‘said sternly,’ you’ve given readers a clue about how he’s speaking without using an intrusive adverb.
Show body language and tone of voice to indicate how a line is said
Lines can be said in many different ways. If you want your characters to sound different from one another, give them each distinct way of speaking.
The girl shrugged as if she didn’t care. “I don’t want to go. I hate him! He’s an idiot and a jerk. He thinks he can control me, but he’ll never get away with it.”
She shrugged (body language), which showed she didn’t care, and then went on to say she hated the man in question. The way she said it was with vehemence—and so readers can tell that her tone of voice reflected those feelings.
Keep your dialogues short
Long blocks of dialogue can become tedious for readers.
You don’t want to keep interrupting the action with lines of dialogue, so if you have too much to say about one topic, break it up into several chunks of conversation instead of writing it all as one big block:
“I can’t believe you got her to agree to marry you,” she said in awe. “I knew you were unhappy, but I didn’t think you had it in you to make such a big change. And now with the promotion… Wow!”
The ‘she said at the beginning of each line shows readers that the person speaking is changing. But even though the blocks are shorter in the second example, they still give readers a good sense of how each speaker reacts and speaks.
Avoid dialogue tags
These can distract readers from what’s actually being said by breaking up the flow of exchange.
A line of dialogue should be able to stand on its own without adverbs or fragments that indicate how it’s said.
With the exception of dialogue that’s written in dialect, write all dialogue as plain prose.
You can use beats to show a speaker’s tone of voice and/or body language, but avoid writing out those actions in quotation marks like this:
“This is not happening,” Spencer cried as he sank to the ground.
You can use contractions in a line of dialogue when appropriate but try not to overdo it (it is better to err on the side of caution).
Use appropriate language
There’s no need to pepper your story with profanity, colloquialisms, and vulgarities just because you think it will give the characters “voice.”
In real life, people swear or use slang when they’re upset or angry (or both), but unless that’s the case in your story, stick to formal language.
Avoid using adverbs in dialogue tags
Adverbs such as ‘shouted angrily’ tell us how a line is spoken rather than what it means.
Your reader can figure out the tone of voice and other emotions by what’s said.
“I hate you,” Spencer said angrily; it would be better as:
“I hate you,” he spat.
Mix up your dialogue tags for a variety
Most of the time, you can use ‘said’ and ‘asked’ in your writing, but if you overuse these words, they’ll lose their impact. Instead of writing:
“Where have you been?” she asked wearily.
Use ‘demanded,’ ‘hissed,’ or any number of other verbs to show how your character is speaking. Not only will it make the exchange more interesting, but it’ll also help readers picture how that line is being spoken.
Use slang sparingly
Slang and colloquialisms can be a fun way to capture the voice of your characters, but it’s easy for them to lose their novelty and become distracting.
Used sparingly, they can add flavor to dialogue but don’t overdo it or use too much on one page, or readers will get tired of it.
Slang is often tied to a certain generation or culture, so if you use too many modern expressions, you might lose some readers who are unfamiliar with them. If the slang is integral to the story, however, go ahead and use it.
Keep dialogue in character
You can have your characters speak in dialect or foreign phrases if it’s appropriate to the story. But make sure they’re consistent with how they normally talk (for example, don’t suddenly change from formal to slang).
Give your characters distinctive voices
Make sure each character speaks in a way that’s unique to them. For example, if you have five different people talking, don’t make all of them sound the same.
One person might be more soft-spoken, while another is more reckless or emotional. Their words should be nuanced to reflect their personalities.
Don’t let characters explain too much
Exposition is boring and telling, not showing. Your dialogue tags should add something to the conversation, not reveal what could easily be summarized elsewhere.
Read your dialogue out loud to catch mistakes
You can’t always tell when your dialogue is awkward or doesn’t flow smoothly just by reading it on the page.
Have a coworker read your dialogue aloud and take notes as they do so (they should also be reading your dialogue tags).
This person can catch errors, clunky phrasing, and unnatural patterns that may not be clear to you. This is better than reading aloud to yourself since you’ll be too distracted by the story to notice these things.
15 Dialogue examples (with writing and format tips)
1. The character is shy or doesn’t want to talk to another person.
“I’m not talking to you; I’ve got nothing to say.” He stared at his feet, concentrating on the pattern of holes in the shoes he’d outgrown years before.
2. There is an interruption, and a question is asked by one character and answered by another.
“I’m going to the store.” She twiddled with a button on her shirt and stared at the floor, waiting for his reaction. He frowned but nodded. “Ok, I’ll be back before lunch.”
3. The character needs something from someone else or is angry/upset about something that has happened.
“Why isn’t the washing machine fixed?” He glared at her, hands fisted on his hips. “You know I have a deadline this week. You promised you’d stay on top of these things.”
4. The character speaks to someone they love or admire, and it’s sweet/romantic.
“Did you hear that song? I love that song.” She rested her head on his shoulder and smiled. “I know; it’s beautiful.”
5. The character is warning another person or explaining something in a serious tone of voice.
“Did you hear the sheriff just pulled someone over on Main Street?” He raised an eyebrow and looked out the window. “That’s never good.”
6. The character is playful, flirting with someone they like/love, or teasing another person in a fun way.
“You’re going to be the death of me,” he said lightly and winked at her as she came back into the room. She laughed and playfully slapped his arm. “You love it.”
7. It’s the end of a conversation, and one person is saying goodbye to another.
“I have to go now, but I’ll see you next week.” She gave him a small smile before turning away. He nodded and walked her to the door as they said goodbye.
8. The character needs to tell another person that something is wrong or needs to be discussed.
“We need to talk.” His voice was tight, but she ignored it. “I’ll have time later tonight, don’t worry about it.” She shut the door on her way out and walked down the hallway humming to herself. He stood there staring at the door handle, his mind racing.
9. The character is very angry with another person, and they are trying to control their temper or talk about something that’s bothering them in a calm/controlled way.
“When will you have it fixed?” He clenched his fists tightly at his sides, thinking of all the things he wanted to say but didn’t trust himself to speak. “I’ll call the repair guy first thing tomorrow.”
10. The character is nervous or worried about something and doesn’t want another person to ask about it yet, so they change the subject.
“How’s your day going?” He sat down across from her, trying to read her face for hints of what had happened. She shrugged and glanced away, fiddling with a string on her shirt. “I’m fine; how are you?”
11. The character is trying to figure out if another person is lying or telling the truth about something.
“Did you do it?” His eyes bored into hers, demanding an answer she couldn’t give him. She looked away, staring at the floor. “What do you think?”
12. The character is very upset about something and needs to stop/slow down another person trying to leave or calm them down if they are angry/upset.
“Wait! Don’t go.” She cried out as he turned away from her and walked out. “I can’t do this anymore.”
13. The character tells a secret in a warm/confiding way or whispers exciting news to someone they like/love and want to share privately with them.
“It’s almost midnight,” he whispered against her ear as his arm circled her waist from behind. She turned to smile at him. “I know! I can’t wait for midnight.”
14. The character is confused, uncertain about something, or needs someone to explain something to them in a gentle/caring way that makes them feel safe.
“What does this mean?” He frowned at the paper, not understanding why he’d been rejected from the school he’d wanted to apply to. “I’m not sure; I’ll help you figure it out.”
15. The character is feeling playful or mischievous and wants to play a trick on another person.
“You’re going to be in so much trouble when your mom gets home!” He snickered as she looked up at him in disbelief. “That’s not funny….”
You can use more dialogue tags (like ‘angrily,’ ‘murmured,’ etc.), but this list gives you a good idea of how to make your characters sound different from each other and bring out their personality traits through their words!
Hope these examples will help you 🙂
How to write a dialogue between multiple characters: The ESSENTIALS
It’s natural for characters to talk to each other in a story. Communication is important, after all! If you’ve ever struggled with writing dialogue in your own stories and wondered how to make it better, here are the basics of writing dialogue between multiple characters.
Step 1: Decide what your characters will say before anything else
This may seem obvious but knowing what your characters will say before you start typing is key. If you sit down and write a paragraph or two of dialogue without thinking about it, the conversation will likely be choppy and disjointed. You’ll also have trouble understanding why the scene is happening later on.
Step 2: Stop your characters from blurting out everything that’s on their mind
It can be hard in a conversation to know how much information your characters should reveal. They may tell too much or be too mysterious about certain details until the very end of the scene.
Arranging dialogue requires balance and a sense of when to reveal something important.
Step 3: Leave clues as to what the characters are hiding
If you have secrets in your story, make sure not every character knows them—they should only be privy to that information if it’s relevant. This also allows tension to build and creates mystery around certain characters.
Step 4: Make sure each character has a different way of speaking
Though you only have two or three characters in the scene, they should still be as distinct from one another as possible. One may speak more softly, while another might be blunt and to-the-point.
Think about how people speak and mimic that behavior in your dialogue.
Step 5: Keep the characters moving forward
Even during dialogue, your characters should be doing something. They may cross the room and sit down at a table where they can talk in private, or one might say goodbye after revealing the answer to a mystery.
The plot must continue—don’t just let it take a break during the conversation.
Step 6: Focus on what’s important
As writers, sometimes, we want to include every little detail in our dialogue. While that can make for an engaging scene, it may also risk slowing down the pace of your story or bogging readers down with too much information. Figure out which details matter and leave out everything else.
Step 7: Make sure your characters end up in a different place than where they started
Even if they don’t leave the room or have some huge transformation, make sure the scene leads your characters to a new conclusion. They may feel more secure after talking about their fears with another character, or they might learn something about themselves (or someone else) that changes the direction of their life.
A story is about change, and your characters should also be evolving in some way during dialogue scenes.
Step 8: Make sure dialogue is attached to the right character
Dialogue typically belongs with the person speaking, but it can be detached when one character speaks for another.
For example, if someone said, “he told me not to come,” that wouldn’t mean he was talking—the second person would have relayed the message.
Dialogue should almost always be attached to the person who said it, even if that information is being passed on through another character in the scene.
Step 9: Use body language
Body language can go a long way in your dialogue and convey more subtext than you might imagine. It can show a character’s thoughts or how they truly feel, even if they aren’t speaking those words directly.
For example, a character may cross their arms to indicate that they don’t agree with something, or their eyes may widen when they hear particularly shocking news.
Step 10: Use dialogue to build tension
Dialogue can create both narrative and emotional tension. It may reveal a problem that needs to be solved and what each person is thinking about the conversation.
Tension is needed when you want readers to feel excited or nervous, so figure out how you can pull them into dialogue with these elements.
Step 11: Use dialogue to create intimacy
Dialogue can also leave readers feeling close to your characters. Make them feel like they are included in the conversation, especially if it features two people working through a problem together. This creates a sense of community and keeps readers invested in what’s happening.
Step 12: Use dialogue for exposition
Since many writers are reluctant to include too much exposition, dialogue is a great way of getting this information out there without it feeling forced.
However, you can’t just tell readers everything—the characters should be figuring things out simultaneously as the reader. This makes them feel like active participants in the story.
Resources for further reading and exercises in dialogue creation
- Florida State University
- Valparaiso University – Judith L. Beumer Writing Center
- Purdue University- Fiction Writing Basics
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