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5 Tips to Help Make Your Dialogue More Compelling

Dialogue in fiction is not basic. The conversations between characters should have a purpose and be engaging. And you should write them to be intriguing, involving tension, and worthy of your readers’ attention. To help you with that, here are four tips.

1. Let the Characters be Unpredictable

Sometimes writers, knowing the outcome of dialogue, portray the characters as though they are also aware of the endpoint. For example, a character, let's call him John, gets struck in the face at the end of the dialogue. And during the conversation, he speaks as though he has already been struck in the face. He is angry and cold toward the other character in the dialogue, so much, it looks like John is asking to be hit in the face. If this dialogue should begin with John being nice and friendly, the exchange becomes more captivating, with an unpredictable outcome for both readers and characters.

2. Use Indirect Dialogue for Report of a Previous Scene

Dialogue is redundant when it repeats what readers already know. When what would be the subject of a current exchange is a repetition of events from a previous scene, say a character is giving a report, indirect dialogue is more appropriate. For example,

“Why aren’t you in school today?” Jean asked.

James explained everything that had transpired the previous day in school. “It looks like I won’t be in school for a long time,” he said.

Or consider this example where there is a lie in the character’s report.

“What is going on between the two of you?” Kelvin was furious.

John decided to tell Kelvin the truth. Well… he lied about the part where he threw the first punch. “I was about to leave when he threw a jab right at my chest.”

3. Write Based on What you Know

Your fictional dialogue should be about conversations you are conversant with. It is challenging to write conversations that you have not witnessed before. You may write a particular discussion in a way that might be unrealistic or culturally inappropriate if you have not been in it. Agatha Christie revealed that in all her stories, she has never described three workmen in a pub because she has never sat with three workmen in a pub. So in dialogue, you should stick to what you know. If you must, get conversant with the type of conversation you want to write.

4. Craft a Dialogue with Rising Conflict

You want scenes to contain confrontation that heats up little by little into serious conflict. You need to notch up the tension, or the comedy, with every line of dialogue. And this is not as difficult as it sounds; a realistic dialogue carries this feature by default. Consider the last argument you had with someone. Every argument usually begins with a slightly tense moment, gradually increasing into full-blown conflict. If you approach your dialogue writing as easily as getting into an argument with someone, you are good to go.

5. Give Room for Improvement

Writing a compelling dialogue is going to take more than one draft. You most likely won’t get it right on your first draft, and you don’t have to. The first draft is for you to allow the dialogue to flow without hindering it with adherence to rules. Then during the second draft, you begin to implement the necessary guidelines and ensure the characters sound the way they are supposed to.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen