Lesson 6: Dialogue
In this lesson, we’ll be offering you different tips about how to write good dialogue.
- To define and discuss how to write dialogue.
- To offer concrete techniques about how dialogue should be written.
- To show effective examples of dialogue.
Quick Navigation through the Lesson 6:
In this lesson, we’ll be talking about how to write dialogue that is effective, natural-sounding and engaging. We’ll also be talking about the different ways in which this can be achieved through concrete techniques. To be able to better flesh out this idea, we’re going to be looking at examples of both well written and badly written dialogue.
Outlined below are a couple of pointers for writing effective dialogue.
Don’t use dialogue as exposition
Dialogue as exposition only ever works in drama or plays—and that is because the art form assumes no other way for the characters to get this across: drama is about declamation. In the form of writing, however, there is so much room to flesh out who people are or what happened without having to resort to dialogue.
The big reason for cutting out dialogue as exposition is mainly that it rings very false and forced. Below is an example of dialogue being used to explain what happened, along with why it doesn’t work:
“Hey, Jane. Do you remember how we met?”
“Of course, Karl. You mean that day in grade school when the sun was streaming through the window and I was sitting there, eating my lunch when our eyes met from across the room and you asked my name?”
While the dialogue above does tell us how they met, it makes us question why this is taking place—if they were friends then wouldn’t they already know this? Moreover, the way that Jane describes their meeting is as though Karl wasn’t there precisely because the ineffective dialogue was written for the benefit of the audience. The same can be said for the mention of their names: think of all the people you know well—you’ll realize that when you talk to them, you hardly ever mention their names unless it’s necessary.
Below is a better way of writing the same dialogue and the same conversation without it coming out forced:
“I’m willing to bet about a hundred bucks you don’t even remember how we met.”
“Are you nuts? Sure I do.”
“Fifth. Bam! Take that!”
“Hey, you do remember.”
“I’ll take that hundred bucks, please.”
Cut to the chase: paraphrase
While dialogue should be realistic, it should also skip over a lot of the niceties that everyday conversation goes through—(unless of course, we are documenting a meeting or a court proceeding or something that requires us to write things down verbatim)—otherwise, you include a lot of unimportant information. In writing dialogue the thing that we truly have to master is to know how to get to the heart of the matter while simultaneously paraphrasing and removing the unnecessary umm-ing and ah-ing.
Below is an example of dialogue that doesn’t paraphrase and may end up boring your audience:
“Ummmmm. Hi, my name is Jenny Garcia? I’m here for the test?”
“Ah, hold on. Let me check the list. Hrrrrm. Jenny, Jenny. What’s your last name again?”
“Errrrr—hold on. Ummmm, let me check—just hold on…I think it’s—“
“Is it there? Uh I registered for the test a couple of weeks ago?”
“Hrrrrrm. Looks like someone misplaced the file—“
Note how the conversation lags on and on because of hrrrrrrms, ummmmms and errrrrs. Also, notice how it takes us six lines to get to one point: that someone misplaced Jenny’s file. Also the dialogue literally interprets Jenny’s intonation—while she may be hesitation or may talk like she is asking a question in real life, she is actually stating a declarative sentence. This should be written as is on paper, to get the point across. Below is an example of how the dialogue could be written better.
“Hi, my name’s Jenny Garcia. I’m here for the test.”
“Hold on, let me check the list. Jenny—what’s your last name again?”
“Garcia. I registered for the test a couple of weeks ago.”
“Huh, that’s odd. Looks like someone may have misplaced your file.”
In the second example, the conversation is much more concise. We were able to get to the point in four lines, without sacrificing any of the vital information like Jenny’s name and the fact that the file was misplaced despite her having registered.
Keep purpose in mind
Remember that all dialogue is written for a reason. If it’s in there, it has to be in there for a purpose. If you’re writing a story or a narrative, then make sure that the dialogue supplements the story. If you’re writing a news article, make sure that the dialogue contains facts and that it helps your audience understand exactly what happened during the event that you’re covering. Keeping your dialogue’s purpose in mind keeps you from getting carried away and deviating from your topic. This makes your dialogue more believable and cohesive.
In this lesson, we were able to discuss dialogue and how it can be written to further enhance your writing skills. We were able to discuss three excellent points about how to write dialogue and how common mistakes can be avoided. Furthermore, we were able to talk about the different ways in which dialogue can be used in different ways.
Next up we’re going to be discussing the monologue. We’ll be taking a look at the role of the monologue in writing, how it differs from dialogue both in its form and in what makes for a good monologue and a bad one. We’ll be looking at examples of common mistakes and listing down different techniques to help us improve the way that we write monologues.