“Kaitlyn…” Josh paused for a moment, and sighed, looking down at his boots. In that moment, that instant, when the air filled his chest and then slowly deflated, she knew. He didn’t have a choice.
“Don’t —” she reached out to him, as if the touch of her fingers on his arm could hold back the flood that would sweep her away. “Don’t go. Please.”
“I have to. It’s the only way.” He raised his eyes to meet hers, pleading silently with her to understand.
If you’re writing a story with more than one character, it’s inevitable that they will have a conversation at some point. In writing (and life) this is called dialogue. We’ve all had a lot of practice with dialogue. I mean, you probably had a dozen conversations just this morning. So why is it so hard to write good dialogue?
One of the simplest and most effective ways to improve this aspect of your writing is to stop thinking about it as “dialogue.” That’s a scary, stuffy, official-sounding word, and the last thing you want is for your characters to sound scary, stuffy, or official. Think about it as people talking. It means the same thing, but reframing it in your mind will help you in a number of ways. Dialogue in a story should sound just as natural as people talking in real life. And in the same way that people in real life have different voices, your characters will, too.
Here are 3 easy steps you can take to write better dialogue.
Tip 1: Listen to the voices in your head
No, we’re not suggesting you should go crazy, but we are suggesting that you start putting your imagination to work. Remember those character worksheets you filled out a few weeks ago? Pull them back out again. Now pretend that you are casting a movie with YOUR characters. Who would play the lead, the love interest, the villain? Shailene Woodley? Zoe Saldana? Jesse Williams? Liam Hemsworth? Pick an actor that suits your character and even look at a picture of them while you’re imagining their voice. When you visualize a character and hear real voices in your head, it makes it easier to write them down on the page.
Tip 2: Avoid the “He said/She said”
Take a look at the snippet of dialogue at the beginning of this post. Did you notice that we never once used the word, “said”? You could tell that two people were talking because of the quotation marks. And even though you don’t know who these characters are, or what happened before or after this moment, you can feel the tension in the conversation. You know that they have a strong bond, and that a threat looms. There are more than 200 other words you can use instead of “said” but sometimes the best word is no word at all. (Hint: this is also a great way to keep your word count down.) Remember the golden rule of writing: Show, don’t tell.
Tip 3: Read your dialogue out loud
The best test to see if the dialogue in your story is working is to read it aloud. You might feel a little silly at first talking to yourself in an empty room, but your ear is an expert editor. You’ll be able to hear right away if something sounds unnatural.
For more great tips and exercises to help you improve your dialogue writing, watch the video below.