Does the dialogue you write bore you?
If it does, it’ll put your reader to sleep.
And unfortunately, your first reader will be an agent or an editor. You can’t slip anything boring past them.
Your job as a writer is to make every word count. That’s the best way to keep your reader riveted until the final page—no small task.
Knowing how to write compelling dialogue starts right there—making every word count.
Readers love dialogue for many reasons:
● It breaks up intimidating blocks of copy containing a lot of narrative summary.
● It differentiates (through dialect and word choice) and reveals characters.
● Done well, it can move the story along without author intrusion.
But, as you have likely discovered, writing great dialogue is hard. If yours is bloated or in any other way uninteresting, readers won’t stay with you long.
So how about we leave them no choice?
3 Tips to Writing Effective Dialogue
1. Cut to the Bone
Unless you need to reveal a character as a brainiac or a blowhard pretending to be one, omit every needless word.
Obviously, you wouldn’t render a conversation the way a court transcript includes repetition and even um, ah, uh, etc. But further, see how much you can chop without losing the point. Like this:
“What do you want to do
this Sunday? I thought We could go to the amusement park.”
“I was thinking about renting a rowboat
on one of the lakes.”
that sounds wonderful! I’ve never gone rowing before.”
That doesn’t mean all your dialogue has to be short and choppy—just that you’ll cut out the dead wood to keep to the point. You’ll be surprised by how much power it adds to your prose.
2. Reveal Backstory
Sprinkling in backstory through dialogue is another way to keep your reader turning pages. Hinting at some incident for the first time is an automatic setup that demands a payoff.
As they emerged from the car and headed toward the house, Janet whispered, “Can we not have a repeat of Cincinnati?”
Jeanie shot her a double take. “Believe me, I don’t want that any more than you do.”
“Good,” Janet said. “I mean—”
“Can we not talk about it, please?”
What normal reader wouldn’t assume they will talk about it at some point and will stay with the story until then?
As the story moves along, you can continue to reveal more and more about your protagonist’s past and have your story come full circle.
This technique accomplishes two things at once: it offers a setup that should intrigue the reader, and it helps you avoid flashbacks.
3. Reveal Character
Your reader learns a lot about your characters through dialogue. You don’t have to describe them as sarcastic, witty, narcissistic, kind, or anything else. The reader will know from how they interact with others and their choice of words.
Avoid the Cardinal Sin of Dialogue
The last thing you want is to be guilty of on-the-nose writing, especially in dialogue. Rather, cut and reveal, and you’ll immediately see the difference. And so will your reader.
In the comments, ask any questions regarding how to write dialogue.