Writing Tips – How to Write Dialogue that Speaks
Knowing how to write dialogue in a novel is right up there, on the same level of importance, as
the knowing how to write the scenes that contain the dialogue. There are two things a novelist
needs to know about dialogue. Dialogue in any novel must always perform the following huge
1. Dialogue must characterize and individualize the speaker.
2. Dialogue must give the plot, the story forward momentum.
You may recognize these function as being the same things said of writing scenes. It’s true, in
this way, scenes and dialogue are united in purpose, go hand in hand, and all that.
Learning how to write dialogue that shines involves some work, but if you can learn to write a
compelling scene, you can also learn how to write dialogue that talks volumes. To get started,
let’s look at some dialogue writing techniques.
How to Write Dialogue that Shows Individualization
This first function requires a thorough understanding of your characters. From the discussion
about developing characters, you know:
The primary, complex, and contrasting traits of, for example, your lead character
Your character’s background, strengths, weaknesses, manners, habits, etc.
Novel Writing Tips – The voice of your lead character should portray and be consistent
with the things you know about him.
You know the same things about the other characters in the story, each one an individual.
Likewise, the dialogue of each one of your characters should be different. There’s no better place
in a novel than in dialogue to really show who these people are.
For example, only one character in your novel calls everyone “dear”, only one character has a
potty-mouth, only one character talks in a self-deprecating way. If they all called each other
“dear”, had a potty mouth, and spoke in a self-deprecating way, how would readers be able to
distinguish one person from another?
Of course, if you continually write, “John said” or “Suzie said” after each line of dialogue, that
would certainly give an indication. But if dialogue is individualized, you shouldn’t have to
continually write who said what after each line.
Novel Writing Tips – The reader should be able to discern who is talking by the portrayal of a
character’s unique traits.
Know How to Write Dialogue that Makes a Difference
Learning how to write dialogue that is unique to each one of your characters, individualizing
those characters, will make your novel shine. Here’s an example of character individualization.
Let’s look at 3 different women, each one recently dumped by their boyfriend, and telling their
BFF all about it. The women have the following traits:
Woman #1 – Reasonable, thoughtful, secure
Woman #2 – Insecure, clingy, meek
Woman #3 – Combative, loves a conflict, mouthy
Consider the following sections of dialogue:
1. “I keep wondering what I did wrong, but I’m afraid to ask him. He said that he needed a break,
but I thought he liked being with me as much as I did him.”
2. “If he thinks he’s seen the last of me, he’s wrong. Who does he think he is? He just decides
it’s over, and he thinks that’s it. Well. I’m going to drive over to his office and tell him a thing or
two that will make his head rattle.”
3. “He may be right – things weren’t perfect between us for quite a while. I guess I’ll just see
how it goes. Some things are just not meant to be.”
Can you tell who said what? Of course, the responses are in order of Woman #2, then Woman #
3, and the last response is from Woman #1. Each woman’s response to the breakup is based on
her individual personality traits, values, and goals.
You can finish reading this article on our website about how to write dialogue.