3 Things To Remember About Dialogue

Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 29: 3 Things To Remember About Dialogue


Writers Write creates writing resources. In this post, we suggest three things to remember about dialogue in your novels.

Welcome to week 29 of Anthony’s series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week’s post here.

Goal setting

  1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.

Breaking it down

1. Dialogue is about character

When characters speak, readers listen. In fact, they probably pay more attention to dialogue than narrative. It’s a way for the them to get information about the characters in your novel.

The other day, a friend of mine made some off-hand comment about photographers. ‘Photographers are always seeing the deeper meaning – it’s never just a picture of a cup of coffee.’

This got me thinking about Jenna, my main character. She is a photographer. Obsessed with getting the perfect shot to tell the perfect story. How does this inform her dialogue? She can be quite critical – probing, incisive, intelligent.

Here’s another example. For my antagonist, Monty, finding his speech patterns was a bit easier. He is a dreamer. So his dialogue is always about the future – about wish fulfilment. He very seldom tells the truth – he reinvents the past and the future is always ‘make believe’.  Knowing this about him has really helped me with his dialogue. 

2. Dialogue is about moving the story forward – or back

Readers are also looking to dialogue to give them information about the story or plot. They get to know  this through a character’s intentions and decisions – what are they going to do next in the story? That’s why stating these decisions in dialogue is a great idea – they register with the reader. For example: ‘We’ll go to the police first thing in the morning.’ ‘Let’s ask my father for help – he’ll know what to do.’ ‘We have to stop him before he takes this too far.’

Dialogue is a great way to avoid using long passages of back story. In my novel, it’s important to introduce some information about a holiday Matt and Jenna took in the past.

Instead of writing it as a flashback, I have the two lovers reminiscing about the holiday in dialogue. I also have other characters speak about this holiday in the story.

By using snippets of the information about the holiday in dialogue, I’m not forced to reveal the whole truth about what happened on the holiday – only through the memories of my characters.

3. Dialogues is about contrasting words with actions

The reader is also looking for the promises one character makes to another character – and to see if they keep those promises. Do we believe what the character is saying? Do we trust them?

In my novel, Matt, Jenna’s boyfriend, is always making promises that he never seems to keep.

This gives the reader a heightened awareness of the ‘fault lines’ in the relationship between Matt and Jenna. I want them to ask: Why does she believe these promises?  The contrast between a character’s actions and their words is very often what creates tension in a story.

One of elements I love about writing my novel is finding the voices of my characters – I start to see them in my mind, the story becomes kinetic, and I’m able to move the story forward. 

Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Write for half an hour or an hour a day on your scenes or chapters.

5 Quick Hacks

  1. Download some movie scripts and read some published plays. Observe how dialogue moves the story forward.
  2. Act out or speak aloud the dialogue in your novel.  Write out a scene as a dialogue-only script and ask a friend to play one of the ‘parts’. How does it sound?
  3. Write some Facebook or Twitter posts for your characters. Does it capture the ‘personality’ of your character?
  4. Take a flashback (if you have one) and  re-write it as a dialogue in a current scene.
  5. Imagine your character has lost their voice. How would they express themselves in body language?

Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Go ahead, make my day!’ — Dirty Harry

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

Top Tip: Join us for Writers Write ONLINE to learn how to write a book.

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 28: Breaking Up Chapters & Scenes
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 27: Theme As the Engine Of Plot
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year – Week 26: 3 Tough Questions You May Be Facing

For more on dialogue, read:

  1. Let’s Talk Dialogue – How To Shape And Structure Spoken Words
  2. Let’s Talk Dialogue – Do You Say It Out Loud Or Keep It To Yourself?
  3. Let’s Talk Dialogue – 6 Ways Emphasis Can Change Meaning In Dialogue
  4. Let’s Talk Dialogue – 5 Ways Punctuation Makes It Perfect!
  5. Let’s Talk Dialogue – How Social Media Has Changed Dialogue

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  1. Mike Brown

    When writing in first person, dialog becomes your source by which you tell your story. First person narration forces you to embrace dialog. Spoken words can shape a character and define emotion in the story. But, remember dialog must be real, believable, and reflect the diversity of your characters. These are the lessons I have learned writing first person stories which will help me write other third person narrative stories as well. Anyone can tell a story, but dialog allows you to draw your reader into the story.

  2. Anthony Ehlers

    Great insight, Mike. That’s something I’d like to explore – the link between dialogue and viewpoint.

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