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

The Golden Rule of dialogue is to show rather than tell. In this article, AuthorHouse identifies five areas you should concentrate on in order to help you write riveting dialogue in your self-published stories.


Before we look at how to improve our dialogue, let’s remind ourselves what our dialogue should be doing for our story. It’s essential that we keep these functions in mind when we read through and edit our manuscript.


The Six Functions of Dialogue


The dialogue in your story should:


1. Reveal character (in what is and isn’t said)


2. Provide pertinent information


3. Drive the plot by building tension and drama


4. Reveal the chemistry and relationships between characters


5. Provide an emotional outlet for the story’s characters


6. Create white space on the page; break the story up for the reader


So now that you have finished the first draft of your manuscript, it’s time to edit. AuthorHouse suggests you conduct a dialogue-specific edit once you’ve completed your first general edit. Here is the first of five areas deserving special attention (we’ll cover the other four in our next two posts).


1. Make Sure You Are Using the Appropriate Vocabulary


There are two groups of people to consider when selecting the style of language your characters will use. The first group is your readers, and the second is the characters themselves. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about each group to make sure you are using the appropriate vocabulary.


How Old Are They?


Characters: A teenager will speak differently from a senior citizen.
Readers: Think about movie ratings in terms of explicit language. Also gear the level of sophistication of your vocabulary to your audience in terms of using long words and technical jargon.


What Gender Are They?


Characters: Male and female characters will use different vocabularies.
Readers: Male and female readers will respond differently to the vocabulary you have decided to use.


What Is Their Social Background?


Characters: Did your characters grow up poor, or were they born with a silver spoon in their mouths?
Readers: Different socioeconomic classes will view different subject matter from their own points of view. Think about how they would react if what was happening in your story was true.


What Level of Education Have They Attained?


Characters: How varied or limited will their vocabulary be? Will they use technical jargon and speak knowledgeably about a wide variety of topics?
Readers: How much of your technical jargon will they likely be able to comprehend, and how many topics will they be familiar with?


Where Do They Live, and Where Are They From?


Characters: Does their geographical location and background dictate that they use particular slang or catchphrases?
Readers: Will your readers understand the slang and catchphrases your characters use? (We will talk about dialect and slang later in this article)


We’ll continue our dialogue discussion next week!


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