Five Areas for Improving Your Story’s Dialogue (Part Two)

Today AuthorHouse continues our three-part series on dialogue improvement in self-published writing. In the first part, we talked about the six functions of dialogue, and the importance of your characters using the appropriate vocabulary. You can read that installment here; if you haven’t done so already, it’s worth checking out!


This time, we’ll talk about the second area of dialogue improvement.


2. Conversations Should Captivate Readers


Your dialogue should not be an exact copy of how people really speak, but it should be realistic enough to be believable while holding your reader’s attention. Here are the elements you need to consider when editing your dialogue in line with your story:


Location: The situation in which your characters are speaking will dictate the words they use, the manner in which they communicate, and the flow of their conversation. If they are in the middle of a battle, with gunfire and mayhem going on around them, their manner of speech should reflect this. They are likely to be shouting over the noise and even be interrupted by nearby explosions. Physical gestures may also be incorporated into the conversation to make it easier to get their message across.


Words: DO NOT let the words your characters speak repeat what has already been said in your narration. AVOID exposition so that you are not wasting the reader’s time by having your characters talk about something they should logically already know. DO use contractions, as most people use these when they are talking in normal conversation.


Dialogue Tags: Remember the KISS principle—Keep It Short and Simple. Stick with the word “said” as much as possible (“He said,” “she said”). Add a sprinkling of “shouted” or “whispered” for variety, but do not get too fancy. Too many tags will start to sound contrived and will draw your reader’s attention to them rather than the dialogue.


Actions: Your characters’ gestures can be used to emphasize what they are saying, or to break up a long passage of speech. The listener might nod or sigh while the speaker continues. Commenting on this will break up conversation a bit.


Emotions: The relationship between two characters will certainly dictate the manner in which they speak to one another and the flow of their conversation. They may use clipped, short sentences if theirs is a tense relationship, or long flowing sentences if they are comfortable with one another (this manner of speech will also help build tension). Punctuate the conversation again with some physical gestures to portray fear, reveal a lie, etc.


Verbosity: Some people talk a lot, while others are the strong, silent types. Don’t allow characters to go on and on, and also remember that your reader will be able to glean as much from what has not been said as what is being said.


That’s all for this week! Apply these tips to your current writing project and see if your characters’ dialogue grabs your readers’ attention. Author’s Digest will conclude this series next week!


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