Tips on writing realistic dialogue

Now, turns out I have a few writing skills that come easier to me than others. One of these is writing dialogue, which is super important when it comes to writing YA or Children’s fiction. Wait, scrap that, to say I am a ‘natural’ would be misleading. I can tell you exactly how writing dialogue has become something unconscious and natural.

I hear voices
Not the creepy kind, which is a bit of a shame, but I can hear the voices of people I know. When I am writing dialogue I think of a person I know and how they speak, because THAT is how I want my character to talk. Because I listen to the way people speak I get this kind of other-worldly-feeling when something doesn’t seem natural. If a character talks, but it doesn’t sound like them, my toes curl.

Structure
So many times, it’s the way dialogue is structured that doesn’t make it seem realistic. If you find a character speaking for more than two lines without interruption or saying more than one thought all at once – SPLIT IT. Have another character interject in a way that promotes the next line. People interact, their words are sparked by each other’s.

Now, this is something I learned from acting: people never let someone completely finish. They always talk over the end of their sentence/thought. This is hard to get across in writing, but when you do it, you’ll notice a huge difference. It also means when you have a pause from one character in the dialogue, it SHOWS! It gives weight to their silence.

Treading the boards
I used to do a lot of acting and studying of plays. But I’m not one for the limelight, so I shied away. But it’s been invaluable. Yes, this is uber important. With plays, you ONLY have the dialogue to interpret the character, to understand their motivations. In studying HOW a person says something by reading it out loud and WHAT effect this had on an audience, enabled me to write dialogue loaded with showing, rather than telling. Throw in the odd ‘cue’ to the character, and you’re away.

Write a script
Lastly, try your hand at writing a script. There’s no room for telling. You have only cues and dialogue to rely upon getting things across to the audience. I wrote a comedy script before I ever began my hand at writing a novel, and that was probably the best practice I could ever have had.

So, tell me chaps and chapesses, what helps you write natural dialogue?

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9 thoughts on “Tips on writing realistic dialogue

  1. I love your tip on making it sound like people from real life. So obvious, yet a lot of people wouldn't think of it.I'd like to try my hand at a proper play. Those were the first things I ever wrote. Good practice, like you say. As well as those pauses, I think physical reactions are important as well. Body language says a lot about what someone thinks, even if they refrain from saying anything.

  2. Thanks for the great post! I find it helpful to make sure to leave out all the boring parts of dialog, or in other words, not to write how people actually talk. That annoys me in books, the "hi, how are you?, nice weather we're having?" I know people talk like that, but stick to the exciting stuff! 🙂

  3. I'm like you. My dialogue is the bit of my writing I get more positive feedback on than anything else. I'm still amazed at that because I always thought I was rubbish at it. But I think it comes from really knowing your characters. If you know them, you don't have to invent dialogue, you just start them off in a certain situation and they do the work for you.I agree with you about scripts. But I would say radio scripts are double the value of TV/theatre/film scripts, because on radio you don't even have body language to help you out – much like when you are writing a book, but even more so.Also, agree with Sharon's comment – dialogue actually needs to be less realistic sometimes! I read somewhere that you should never show an entrance or an exit (the hellos and goodbyes).Nice post 🙂

  4. A fab post Freya. I totally understand what you mean about that other worldly feeling that makes your toes curl. I feel like that about many things in writing where something just doesn't quite gel, whether it's a character acting outside of their natural motivation or simply clunky phrasing. Personally, I do have to be able to hear dialogue in order to write it, just as I have to be able to see a scene before I can describe it. If it's not clear in my head, it will never work on paper.

  5. Nick: I would love to go back to writing plays too. There's something about them… totally agree about the body language thing – that's what made acting so fun!Sharon: You picked up on something I complete missed. Another thing that I do without thinking about it is not having all that mundane chat.Chloe: Yes, knowing your characters is key. Most characters of mine aren't based on anyone I know, but I can still hear their voice.Which leads me to Rin: I hear them too! It's so true about the visuals too. Sometimes it takes a while writing a scene before the clarity of the image comes into my mind.Thanks all! Great points.

  6. I find that speaking the words out loud helps enormously. Speaking dialogue blocks out also helps determine if there is a natural flow and, perhaps more inportantly, where there are hurdles.Andy G

  7. Hey I wanted to let you know that Falling for Fiction will be doing a CP/Beta mixer where people who are looking for Crit Partners can list what they're looking for. We'll announce when our next one is soon.

  8. Andy: Yep, speaking out loud is enormously helpful. Although for someone like me (who doesn't like talking on her writing days) finds it quite difficult to do.Jenny: That sounds awesome! Thanks for letting me know. I will be there!

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