10 Aspects of Dialogue

Dialogue creates a sense of immediacy, putting the reader right into the action, connecting the reader directly to the characters. Today I continue from last week, exploring various aspects of dialogue.

Every line of dialogue you write should serve a purpose in your story or novel: it should advance your characters and/or move your plot along. This alone is valuable advice. If a line or a word serves no purpose for the plot, then why include it?

shoutThe natural speech we hear every day is not always grammatically correct. When we talk to someone, we do not always speak in full or fluid sentences, we omit things, relying on so much more than the words spoken: gesture, tone of voice, facial expressions, word emphasis, locational cues, etc. This breadth of information does not record as naturally looking dialogue.


There is a lot to consider when writing dialogue:

Emotion:     Sometimes when written dialogue conveys an obvious emotion, the author still emphasises this when attributing the speech to a character, eg: “‘I am so happy!’ Caitlin blurted jubilantly.” What is repetitive here? Is the reiterating of emotion unnecessary? Is it too obvious for the reader and therefore kind of prescriptive and patronising of the author? What if the author simply used ‘said’ – is this better or worse?

helpGesture:      Watch a conversation between a group of friends, or at a family gathering. People just don’t stand still – that would be weird. Some people are more animated than others, but everyone gestures in some way.

Tone:          Did your mum ever tell you that you can pretty much say anything as long as you say it in the right tone? ‘I really hate you’ said in a light tone can convey a friendly banter that would be ambiguous or confusing without some tonal indication.

Emphasis:   ‘Oh you love him’ can lose its gentle teasing without the emphasis placed on the word ‘love’.

Dialect:       Can tell you a lot about a character. ‘G’day mate’ immediately conjures an Australian character.

Personality: How does someone’s personality show through their speaking habits and patterns?

it-up-to-youInference:    Read between the lines of dialogue, characters rarely say all they mean.

Volume:      Ever been in a conversation with a really quiet talker, feeling the discomfort of closer-than-close proximity in order to be able to hear what is being said? How does this differ from going to the movies with a loud talker?

Grammar and punctuation:     As well as considering the dialogue itself, there are more general rules about dialogue. Check out a style manual if you are not sure how to deal with direct speech. It is also useful to see how other authors have dealt with dialogue and discover which of these you feel is most effective for your writing.

Attribution: Dialogue also needs to be attributed to particular characters.


Don’t forget: when it is written, always read your dialogue out loud to hear if it flows like natural speech.


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