Tip #1
Write dialogue that flows naturally for each character, giving each of them a distinctive voice. Some will use
slang. Others will swear. Some stilted characters may actually speak in stiff grammatically correct sentences.  
Think about your family members and friends. It’s likely no two speak exactly alike.

People from different socio-economic classes talk differently. Some people say very little, but when they do it’s
important. Others ramble on and say nothing. Some people have accents. Some people talk in run-on
sentences. The list goes on.

And don’t forget about the age factor.  Consider these three distinct personalities coming through as they
comment on the same serving of Brussels sprouts.

  • Four-year-old boy - “Mommy, I don’t like these slimy green things.”
  • 44-year-old husband - “Maybe if they had been cooked a little longer . . .  dear.”
  • 84-year-old curmudgeon - “What . . . are you tryin' to kill me with these things?”

As I’m developing my characters, I maintain a spreadsheet of each of their personality traits.  Then I periodically
review it when I’m writing their dialogue or creating a scene, just to remind me of what they’re all about. I find the

Myers Briggs
method of determining personality traits very useful in this regard.
Tip #2
Keep dialogue short.  Lengthy exchanges between characters--unless they are categorically essential to the
story, mood or character--will bore most readers.
Tip #3
Weave in physical gestures and body language with the dialogue. Have your character clench his fists or pound
the table when he’s angry.  Have another one throw up her hands in despair. Someone may turn his back from
the person he's talking to before finishing his thoughts. A sassy character may stick out her tongue behind the
other person’s back. A nervous character may fidget. (
Click here for more examples of body language.)
Tip #4
Choose dialogue carefully. Eliminate boring everyday chit-chat. If it doesn’t work towards developing the
character, establishing the mood for a scene, moving the plot forward, or depicting the character’s feelings,
omit it.
Tip #5
Use sentence fragments, especially when the tension is high. Or when children are speaking . . . especially
teens . . . and preoccupied husbands. In fact, sometimes a grunt will do just fine.
Tip #6
Don’t be afraid to let the character trail off in thought, interrupt someone else or lose his or her train of thought
altogether. That’s natural. Just don’t overdo it, unless it helps to define the character.
Tip #7
Use “he said” and “she said” dialogue tags only when needed to clarify who is saying what.  If it’s obvious who
is talking, leave out the tags. Use alternative words for 'said' sparingly (he shouted, she whispered, he argued).
Tip #8
Show how the character is saying the dialogue instead of telling the reader how it was said.

    Instead of: “I’m outta here,” she shouted angrily.
    Try using:  She threw the remote at him. “I’m outta here.”
Tip #9
If several dialogue tags are required in a short span of text, mix up where they fall in the sentence.

    “I’m not going,” Wayne muttered.
    “Why?” Kelly asked.  “You’ll know almost everyone there.”
    Mario fidgeted with his tie before saying, “I know why you’re not going.”
Tip #10
Dialogue can show both inner and outward conflict.

    Inner conflict:  The bathroom attendant stared at the gold ring the customer had carelessly left on the
    sink after washing her hands.  “I think you might be more comfortable over here,” she said, directing the
    next customer away from the ring.

    Outward conflict:  The woman’s wide eyes darted around the bathroom before landing on the attendant.  
    “Where is it?  Who stole my ring?!”
Tip #11
Avoid telling the reader what the character is about to say before he says it. Just have the character say it. In the
following example, the dialogue speaks for itself, and the leading sentence could be eliminated.   

    John decided to put a stop to it.  “Stop your fighting, or I’ll put you in a time-out.”
Tip #12
Before a character speaks for the first time in the story, consider describing his or her voice. Is it baritone,
gravelly, or lilted?  Does the character have a lisp?  Does she always talk fast, or do you have to drag the words
out of her?
Tip #13
Read your dialogue aloud to make sure it’s believable, flows naturally, and doesn't sound artificial.
Tip #14
Avoid overusing someone’s name in the conversation.  Most people don’t talk that way.
Tip #15
Avoid using dialogue as a dumping ground for information. If the information is important for the reader to know,
find another way to convey it.  In the following example, the information being conveyed through dialogue would
be more effectively conveyed via backstory.

    “I saw my next door neighbor the other day. You know, the Italian stud with the incredible six-pack and
    thick black hair who came to this country two years ago after landing an acting job in the gangster movie
    that opened last week.”
Tip #16
Sometimes it's what a character doesn't say that adds tension to a scene. Try using silence or the bare
minimum of words in these instances.
Tip #17
If you're writing in current times, try weaving in technology-driven dialogue such as e-mail, Twitter and Facebook.
Writing Tips & Advice

Writing good realistic dialogue doesn't come easily to everyone. Done well, dialogue advances the story and
fleshes out the characters while providing a break from straight exposition. It takes time to develop the skill to
create effective dialogue, and I hope some of the tips I offer help you to do just that.

Dialogue and characters should be intimately intertwined--the dialogue revealing the character, and the
character determining the dialogue. Dialogue is a wonderful way to show characterization, and also the
relationships between your characters. Not only what people say, but the way they say it, gives the reader
information about the character.

One good piece of advice I received when it came to writing realistic dialogue was to eavesdrop on other
peoples’ conversations. Sounds lame, doesn't it?  It did to me, until I tried it.  Not that you would write dialogue
exactly how people talk.  Real people talk in too many fragments, speak a lot of boring day-to-day conversation,
talk over each other, and trail off too often. And most people don’t talk in complete grammatically correct
sentences either.

So dialogue in fiction has to be a blend of what goes on in real life and completely proper dialogue. Strike the
right balance, and you'll satisfy the reader and the integrity of your characters and the story. Improve upon real-
life dialogue, but don't go as far as to make it completely proper.

But as always, there are exceptions.  Take “Same Kind of Different As Me.”  Every other chapter is written in first
person by Ron Hall, a homeless drifter, and Denver Moore, a well-educated art dealer.  In this case, their exact
distinct dialogues are imperative to the story.

Did I mention there are no hard and fast rules in creative writing?

Consider these tips when crafting your dialogue.

Effective dialogue in novels is generally a compromise between
what goes on in real life and completely proper dialogue.

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