Here are some tips for writing better dialogue which I have picked up through my many failures at writing anything decent.

  • Answer a question with a question.
  • Have your character go off-topic.
  • Don’t forget your action beats. Minimum every four lines of dialogue.
  • Be careful when using ‘word sounds’ instead of action beats.
    Write: //He laughed. “This isn’t for you,” he said.// Not: //“Ha ha, this isn’t for you,” he said.//
  • Don’t write how people actually talk in real life, but how you remember conversations.
  • Only include dialogue which extends your story or your characterisation, if it doesn’t, swap it out.
  • Give different characters different favourite phrases (and swears) to give them distinctive voices, keep a list and make sure only they use them.
  • Remember, different personalities, which all your characters have, cause people to say or not say certain things.
  • Use slang and abbreviation, but sparingly, and you ain’t gonna go far wrong, me old mate.
  • Highlight all your curse words as you write, then change the dialogue in revision so that the annoyance comes out in the logic. Use curses sparingly for most impact. Unless you are Irvine Welsh, of course.
  • Do a Find and Replace on your MS for exclamation marks. If they can go, lose them, sentences are often more impactful without them. Do use them for curses. I also italicise curse words.
  • The way people talk to each other depends on the power relationship between them. Use this.
  • Don’t overuse references to people’s names in dialogue. Never use them in a one-on-one situation.
  • Shift narration and exposition into your dialogue, and it will become invisible to the reader.
  • Your characters should never tell another character something which they know they already know.
  • The only way to know if your dialogue stands up, is to read it out loud.

Now, get writing!