Deconstruct Dialogue: Improve Your Story’s Dialogue

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One of my favorite scenes to write in any novel are the ones heavy in dialogue. What’s said is just as important as what’s left unsaid. Tension builds as voices rise. A relationship alters from a single beat of silence. There’s endless possibilities to create an additional layer of complexity to any story through speech.

How can we improve such an important part of our story? I’ve included below some tips I’ve collected in the past year about how to craft realistic and engaging dialogue, and hopefully these suggestions will help you create your next pivotal exchange between characters.

  1. Read screenplays. Film scripts can help us understand pacing and how dialogue plays a role. Movies or TV shows often don’t have verbal narrators (Gossip Girl and Stranger than Fiction aside), and thus screenwriters rely on characters’ speech. Pick the last great film you saw or your favorite episode from a series which had you hooked – why did the dialogue affect you as a viewer? If you’re trying to better understand your chosen genre, scripts allow us to focus on how characters in a certain genre typically talk and interact with one another.
  2. Give speech mannerisms, or common phrases, to your characters. One timeless example? Gatsby’s “old sport”. We’ve all known someone who began to pick up the common phrases of a close friend or family member. People often do have a saying or exclamation they’ll often make, and choosing at least one for your character adds another element of realism to your dialogue.
  3. Characters often say what they want, not what they mean. (This is also something I’m still definitely working on as a writer!) “Show, don’t tell” applies to dialogue as well. Maybe a character will disguise what they want from another character in order to manipulate them, or maybe they don’t admit to someone what’s truly bothering them. Characters lose authenticity by always revealing their inner thoughts and emotions through speech. Try other ways to show characters’ true motives, such as through action or narration.

There’s lots of additional tips out there to continue improving your story’s dialogue. Are there any suggestions you’ve heard or ones which have you worked well for you? Do you love creating dialogue as well – or is it your least favorite part about writing a story?

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3 thoughts on “Deconstruct Dialogue: Improve Your Story’s Dialogue

  1. I always struggle with dialogue because I feel that the character’s movements and body language tell just as much about what they are saying as their words do. I think that’s one of the main things that separates TV from books: in TV shows, it’s so much easier for the writers to tell the viewers what the characters are trying to say and how they feel just through the way they carry themselves or look at another person and that’s just one of those things that’s often lost in writing and that much harder to convey.

    1. Agreed, while I love screenplays, screenplay directions also have much more “telling” than would work in a novel. In a story, body language can definitely express as much as dialogue would. Stories seems to require much more of a balance between the two than screenplays!

      1. Stories can be so difficult sometimes! Like you HAVE the story and you KNOW you want to write it, but you can’t because you just have no clue how to accurately express emotions. *siiiiiigggggghhhhh* The quandary of the writer.

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