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.  
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

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. January Writing Prompts
  2. The Pros And Cons Of Writing In Second Person
  3. The Pros And Cons Of Writing In First Person


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    25 responses
    Farah gaped at Mark. “You’re not serious, are you?” He didn’t look up from packing the suitcase. “Actually, I am.” “I don’t believe you.” “You should.” “Why?” “Because this time, it’s real. Not some faked fight to get rid of me for a few days. Because this time I’m the one who wants out of here. Away from you.” “But, you promised – “ “No, WE promised. And you didn’t keep it. I wonder if you ever meant to.” Her voice hissed through clenched teeth. “Screw you.” “No, ‘darling,’ not anymore. You’ve lost that privilege.” The mild, matter-of-fact tone laced through her, freezing the outrage that had started at the thought that HE would leave HER. Somehow, he knew. As he zipped up the suitcase she asked, “How…how did you find out? He pointed to the garment bag. “Hand me that?” She stood motionless, and after a moment he reached around her to fetch it himself. He was filling the weekend bag before she spoke again. “I asked you a question.” “Does it really matter?” “I thought we had a deal.” He finally looked at her. “And I thought we had a marriage.” The pain in his eyes washed away the last lingering embers of her own anger, leaving only the fear of being left. Again. And the knowledge that she’d caused it. Staring at the carpet she asked in a tiny voice, “Can we talk about this?” Mark slung the weekender bag over his shoulder and picked up the other bags before answering. “We just did.” Farah couldn’t find anything else to say. She watched as he walked out to his car, a deliberate stride that said more than words could, put his bags in the trunk, and drove off.
    Great Archon1995! Thanks for sharing. We'll work on these soon. Hope to get a few more...happy writing.
    Dialogue is the life line of a story for those who prefer to write in the dialogue mode.But there are writers who prefer to write in the descriptive mode too. They write very little dialogue and in fact their life line is description.But, a story, whether it be in the dialogue mode or in the descriptive mode, a writer should write it, injecting life into it.Otherwise, the story may not have a quality content.
    John watches me a while. 'You’re not serious, are you?' 'Actually, I am.' 'I don’t believe you.' 'You should. Because, this time, it’s real.' 'But you promised., His voice sounds whiney, I stop throwing things into a bag and look at him. 'We promised,' I say. 'You didn’t keep the promise.' 'Screw you.' 'No darling, not anymore. You’ve lost that privilege.' I'm quite proud of how easily that comes out. I'm a regular Oscar Wilde. 'How did you find out?' he says. 'Does it really matter?' 'I thought we had a deal.' 'I thought we had a marriage., All fight drains from his face, and he sits on the bed. 'Let’s talk about this.' There's a question in his voice, it would be so easy to give in. To put everything back in its rightful place. The cupboard for shoes, the drawers for everything else. Just the way he likes it. He knows that I'm easily swayed. 'Darling?' Screw him, I think and close the bag. 'I'll call you in a few days.'
    Thanks, Adrian. Great piece.
    This is exactly what I've been looking for. I am A aspiring writer and I am working on my first novel but it is in my head and I've been having trouble getting it out. I am going to follow your post very carefully and I will keep you up to date on how I'm doing with my novel.
    That is awesome, Jessica. Best of luck and please keep us posted.
    She was in the kitchen making herself a soup when she heard a yell from behind. 'You're not serious,are you?' She turned around,it was George. 'Actually,I am',she replied turning her back to him once again. 'I don't believe you',he spat. 'You should',she said in a calm voice still facing the stove. 'Why?',he inquired. Folding her arms she turned to him. 'Because this time,it's real.',she said looking him in the eyes. 'But,you promised.',he reminded her. 'No,we promised.',she corrected him.'You didn't keep the promise.' 'Screw you',he grunted. 'No darling,not anymore',she said bitterly.'You have lost that privilege.' Her eyes began to burn. She quickly turned to her soup.It was boiling just like her insides. 'How did you find out?',he asked quietly. She lost her last tiny ray of hope with his question. 'Pass that bag,won't you?',she said to him while stirring the soup with one hand and pointing to the grocery bag lying in the doorway behind him. 'No,I won't.',he retorted.' Fine',she spat throwing the spoon on counter.'I will get it.' She went to get the bag not even looking at him once. 'I asked you a question.',he said blocking her way out of the kitchen. She controlled her sudden urge to kick him.'-Does it matter,how I found out?',she asked in return looking up at him. 'I thought we had a deal.',he said moving towards her. She stepped back.'I thought we had a marriage.',she replied sarcastically. 'Let's talk about this.',he pleaded.She shook her head. 'We just did.',she said and went out of the kitchen dodging his arm.
    16 visitors upvoted this post.