Let Your Character’s Speak: Writing Dialogue

If you aren’t sure what dialogue is, I’d be willing to be that you’ve seen it in your reading.

“Dialogue,” said Sue, “is when your characters speak. It can be when they speak aloud or when they think something.

“When they think something?” asked Ricky Writer.

“Yes. That’s called inner dialogue.”

Dialogue is a great way to move your story forward once you understand how it works. That means that you have to understand . . .

The 4 Things Dialogue Can Do

Dialogue is a great way to reveal information about your character. And I don’t just mean by what your character says. A lot is revealed through how they say it. For example, your character might say:

“Look out for Keekee. She’s in a severe mood.”

Or your character might say the same thing in a different way.

“Approach Keekee with caution today. She is not checking her temper.”

Looking at two ways to say the same thing, you can make some judgements about which character is older, which character is more highly educated, and the relationship between the speaker and the person they are speaking to.

Communicate Information

Dialogue is also a great way to communicate information especially about things that happened in the past.

“I know why Keekee’s mad. I’ve been ghosting her. I’m just tired of the drama.”

The danger with using dialogue to reveal information is that it is best to confine this to things your characters would actually discuss. Don’t spend line after line of dialogue relating information that is there for the reader but no one would naturally discuss.

When the sleuth gathers information, a lot of it is related in dialogue. Remember that some of this information can be incorrect.

Punctuation

When you write dialogue, be careful to punctuate it correctly. It should begin with a quotation mark and end with a quotation mark and terminal punctuation goes within these marks. That sounds confusing. Let me show you how it works.

“When is our assignment due?” asked Bryan.

Keekee scowled. “You never pay attention.”

“And you’re always critical!” said Bryan.

“Like that wasn’t critical,” said Keekee. “I’ve had enough of you today.”

Cut the Clutter

Dialogue is meant to sound like speech but not duplicate speech. One way that it differs is that you need to cut it to the bone. There is no clutter allowed.

This means that you don’t need to include chit chat or small talk unless it relates to the story such as the fact that your character is really bad at small talk. A page of dialogue about the weather, last night’s game, or “how ya doing” has got to go.

If you leave this kind of dialogue in your story, it weakens the whole. Why? Because it is likely to cost your readers. Use dialogue well, and it will pull readers in because they will want to know what your characters have to say.

–SueBE

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