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How to Master Compelling Dialogue in Your Novel

Updated: Apr 9

Writing dialogue can be a challenging task, requiring you to capture the natural flow of conversation while moving your story forward. However, many writers struggle to get it just right.

Typically, writers fall into one of two categories: those who avoid dialogue altogether or those who inundate their novels with unnecessary chatter. But there's a third, lesser-known group of writers who grasp the significance of dialogue in storytelling and wield it effectively as a narrative tool.
Understanding the value of dialogue is key. In this post, I'll explain why dialogue is essential and provide actionable tips for incorporating it effectively into your writing.

Dialogue serves multiple important purposes in a novel:

1. Advancing the Plot: Well-written dialogue can propel your story forward, revealing essential plot details and establishing backstory.
2. Developing Characters: Dialogue offers insight into a character's personality, motivations, and relationships, enriching their portrayal.
3. Setting the Mood: By crafting meaningful exchanges, you can create atmosphere and tension within scenes, enhancing the reader's experience.

To ensure that your dialogue serves its purpose, it should meet the following criteria. If it doesn't, consider deleting.

1. Advancing the Story: Each conversation should contribute to the progression of your narrative, leading the reader closer to the climax or resolution.
2. Revealing Character: Dialogue should offer glimpses into a character's thoughts, feelings, and motives, deepening their complexity.
3. Establishing Relationships: Interactions between characters should reflect their dynamics and deepen the reader's understanding of their connections.

With these principles in mind, here are some top tips for crafting effective dialogue:

1. Keep It Concise: Avoid lengthy exchanges that detract from the narrative flow. Opt for succinct dialogue that delivers key information efficiently.
2. Eliminate Small Talk: Focus on dialogue that advances the plot or reveals character insights, bypassing mundane conversations. In general, forget hello's, bye's, and no's and yes's as noted in number 11 below.
3. Avoid Info Dumping: Resist the temptation to convey excessive exposition through dialogue. Instead, reveal information gradually and subtly.
4. Develop Unique Voices: Give each character a distinct speaking style and vocabulary to enhance their individuality and authenticity.
5. Maintain Consistency: Ensure that characters' dialogue remains true to their established personalities and traits throughout the story.
6. Create Suspense: Use dialogue to build tension and intrigue between characters, leaving important details unsaid to engage the reader's curiosity.
7. Use Subtext: "Subtext is the implicit meaning of a text—the underlying message that is not explicitly stated or shown. Subtext gives the reader information about characters, plot, and the story's context as a whole. Using subtext is a great way to communicate underlying emotion that a character doesn't directly voice." (from MasterClass: How to Write Subtext: 7 Tips for Adding Subtext to Your Writing,
8. Reflect Relationship Dynamics: Tailor dialogue to suit the nature of characters' relationships, varying tone and content accordingly.
9. Show, Don't Tell: Use dialogue to show characters' emotions and intentions through their words and actions, avoiding direct exposition.
10. Minimize Identifying Tags: Limit the use of dialogue tags such as "said" and rely on context and action to indicate speakers. Avoid using any other tag than "said." Other tags distract.
11. Skip Greetings and Goodbyes: Streamline dialogue by omitting unnecessary pleasantries, focusing on the substance of conversations instead.
12. Avoid Speeches: Keep dialogue natural and realistic by avoiding extended monologues or soliloquies that disrupt the flow of conversation.
13. Read Aloud: Test the effectiveness of your dialogue by reading it aloud, ensuring that it flows smoothly and sounds authentic. (It is also useful to use Google’s “Read Aloud: A Test to Speech Voice Reader” Extension. Yes, it pretty monotone but you can still catch grammar errors, repeated text, and more.)

By implementing these strategies, you can elevate the quality of your dialogue and enhance the overall impact of your writing. Mastering the art of dialogue is a valuable skill that will enrich your storytelling and captivate your readers.

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