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Writing Dialogue

Updated: Dec 1, 2023


Crafting Compelling Conversations: Writing Good Dialogue in Fiction Dialogue is the lifeblood of fiction, a dynamic tool that breathes depth into characters, advances the plot, and engages readers on a personal level. Whether it's the sharp exchanges of a heated argument or the tender words shared in a moment of vulnerability, well-written dialogue has the power to bring your narrative to life. In this article, we'll explore the art of crafting good dialogue in fiction, accompanied by examples to illustrate key principles.

1. Character Voice and Consistency Every character in your story should have a distinct voice. Their words, tone, and speech patterns should reflect their personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. Consider this example:

Example 1: "I reckon we oughta git goin' afore the sun sets," drawled Jeb, his cowboy hat casting a shadow over his weathered face.

Lila, the city girl, shot him an impatient look. "Jeb, you're always in such a hurry. Can't we enjoy the view a little longer?"

In this example, Jeb's dialogue reflects his rural, laid-back demeanor, while Lila's speech is more polished and urban. Consistency in character voice helps readers connect with your characters and understand their unique perspectives.

2. Subtext and Conflict Effective dialogue often contains subtext—unspoken thoughts, desires, or tensions beneath the surface. Subtext adds depth and complexity to conversations. Consider this example:

Example 2: As Emily poured tea, Mark glanced at his wristwatch for the third time. "You know," he said, "I really should be heading home soon."

Emily, her voice tinged with disappointment, replied, "Of course, Mark. I wouldn't want to keep you."

In this example, the tension between Mark's desire to leave and Emily's reluctance to see him go creates an underlying conflict that adds layers to their interaction.

3. Show, Don't Tell Dialogue is an opportunity to show rather than tell. Instead of directly stating information, use conversations to reveal it naturally. Consider this example:

Example 3: Tom leaned against the fence, gazing at the stars. "Remember that summer we spent at the lake?" he asked.

Sarah nodded, her eyes misty. "How could I forget? It was the summer we fell in love."

In this example, Tom and Sarah's dialogue doesn't explicitly state their feelings but allows readers to infer their shared memories and emotions.

4. Purposeful Dialogue Ensure that every line of dialogue serves a purpose. Whether it's revealing character traits, advancing the plot, or adding tension, each conversation should move the story forward.


Consider this example:

Example 4: Detective Miller leaned across the interrogation table, his voice low and intense. "Where were you on the night of the 14th?"

Suspect: "I don't remember."

Detective Miller: "Don't play games with me. We have evidence that places you at the scene."

In this example, the dialogue serves the purpose of advancing the investigation and increasing tension.

5. Realistic but Concise While dialogue should feel realistic, it should also be concise. Avoid lengthy monologues or excessive small talk. Trim unnecessary words and focus on conveying the most vital information and emotions. Consider this example:

Example 5: "I was thinking about our trip," said Sarah, "you know, the one we took last summer to the mountains. The weather was great, and we had such a good time. I remember the hikes, the campfires, and the sunsets. It was so beautiful."

"Yes," replied Tom, "it was a wonderful experience, and I treasure those memories."

This conversation, while well-intentioned, could be condensed for more effective storytelling.


Here's a rewrite of Sarah's dialogue:

"I was thinking about our trip," said Sarah. "Don't you remember what a good time we had?"


Conclusion Mastering the art of writing good dialogue is essential for creating authentic, engaging, and immersive fiction. As you craft conversations between your characters, remember to focus on character voice, subtext, purpose, and conciseness. By paying attention to these principles and using examples as your guide, you can breathe life into your characters and make their words resonate with your readers, enriching your narrative in the process.

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