How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps


Step 1: Talking Heads

I love dialogue. It is my favourite part of writing. It is also my favourite part of reading. I often skip blocks of description, especially if there is a lot of it. This habit translates into my writing, which isn’t ideal. I love writing that shows. That is full of action and people who do things. This is what I strive for and dialogue is the easiest way for me to do it. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing dialogue in detail. 

You will find an example of how I start with dialogue below. I plan as little as possible. If you know your characters well, that won’t be a problem. If you are still getting to know them, dialogue will help you to find out who they are. The first thing you'll notice about the piece is that it is a classic or even extreme example of talking heads. No setting. No body language. No description. 

I sort of do that deliberately when I write dialogue, because I want it to be able to stand on its own, and remember what I've said before about being an under-writer? It just comes out that way. I don’t want to rely on the other elements just yet. They are needed - don’t kid yourself. I can get away with this because it is a short piece, but it’ll become irritating for a whole novel. 

In short, don’t plan. Go for it, but remember dialogue has a function. It should:
  1. Reveal character
  2. Move the story forward
  3. Add conflict and tension
  4. Give information
  5. Create white space. 
This is an example of a very rough first draft:
You’re not serious, are you? 
Actually, I am. 
I don’t believe you. 
You should.  
Why? 
Because, this time, it’s real. 
But you promised. 
No, we promised. You didn’t keep the promise. 
Screw you. 
No darling, not anymore. You’ve lost that privilege. 
How did you find out? 
Pass the bag, won’t you? 
No, I won’t. 
Fine, I’ll get it. 
I asked you a question. 
Does it really matter, how I found out? 
I thought we had a deal. 
I thought we had a marriage. 
Let’s talk about this. 
We just did.  
As you can see, I don’t even bother with dialogue tags. I just want to get it down as quickly as possible. 

Does the piece do the following? 
  1. Reveal character? Sort of, I know there is a marriage, two people.
  2. Move the story forward? Yes, there is definitely a ‘next scene’. She has to go somewhere after all.
  3. Add conflict and tension? Yes, I want to know what is going to happen next and I am asking what happened before.
  4. Give information? Yes, but not a whole lot.
  5. Create white space? Way too much white space. Yes, there is such a thing. 
EXERCISE: Use the dialogue example above and write your own version of it, with description added, in the comments below. Please keep it under 300 words. It’ll be awesome to see your writing and the variations that you come up with. 

Look out for Step 2: Layering next week when I’ll post my version with a checklist for the fixes. 

Happy writing!

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 by Mia Botha

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