How crucial is having memorable dialogue between characters in writing fiction? If I quoted you the following movie lines, you would instantly know them. That’s the power of good dialogue.
“You can’t handle the truth!” – A Few Good Men
“I’ll be back.” – The Terminator
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” – Casablanca
“Luke, I am your father.” – Star Wars
In this blog post, we will discuss the ways to write captivating and memorable dialogue for your novel.
Dialogue is a tool to move the plot forward because it enables characters to talk to each other and move the plot along. Dialogue can also give us a glimpse into what makes characters tick.
Listening to what a character has to say can give us clues about who they are, where they come from, and what they’re feeling. When characters have different objectives, a conversation can create an exciting atmosphere and tension, propelling the plot forward.
Types of Dialogue
There are several types of dialogue you can use in your fiction novels.
This is the typical or standard dialogue type, where people talk to each other using quotes to show what they’re saying.
♦ “Hey,” said Jane. “How was your day?”
♦ “It was okay,” replied John. “I had a lot of meetings, but nothing too stressful.”
In this type of dialogue, characters’ words get shortened or reworded rather than being said word for word. It’s mainly for quick, insignificant conversations.
♦ After their conversation, Jane asked John how his day was. He told her it had been okay, with a lot of meetings, but nothing too stressful.
Monologues are long speeches by one character, usually when they’re alone or speaking to another person or a group.
♦ “Listen, I know I messed up,” said John, pacing back and forth. “But I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make it right. I can’t imagine my life without you, and I’ll do anything to earn back your trust.”
Internal dialogue is a character’s thoughts and inner monologue, often used to reveal their emotions, motivations, and perspectives on the world around them.
♦ John stared out the window, lost in thought. He knew he had messed up, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he might never be able to fix things with Jane. Was it worth trying, or should he just give up?
Subtext refers to the underlying meaning or intention behind what a character says. This can include things they imply or suggest, even if they don’t explicitly state them. Skilled use of subtext can add depth and complexity to dialogue.
♦ “I’m fine,” said Jane, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. John knew better than to believe her. He could see the hurt and anger in her eyes, despite her words. “You don’t seem fine,” he said gently, hoping to get her to open up
You know, dialogue tags – like he said, she asked. Use these tags sparingly to avoid being repetitive, and also to show a character’s tone or emotions.
♦ “I can’t believe you did that,” said Jane, shaking her head. “I know, I’m sorry,” replied John, his voice barely above a whisper.
Varying up dialogue types can make conversations between characters more interesting.
What are the Elements of Memorable Dialogue?
To make the conversations between characters in fiction writing come alive, there are certain key elements of dialogue such as:
Every character should have their own unique voice and way of talking. This could include their speech pattern, dialect, choice of words, and manner of speaking. A character’s voice should show their personality, their history, and what drives them.
Tone and Mood
Dialogue can set the tone and create a feeling that goes along with the story’s themes. For instance, the dialogue between two characters when things are tense should differ from when things are more relaxed.
The dialogue should make sense in the scene’s context and the plot. Characters should chat about stuff related to what they want, why they want it, and any problems getting it, and the dialogue should push the plot along.
The pacing of dialogue is crucial for building tension and energy. Speedy dialogue builds momentum, while slower dialogue encourages contemplation.
Action and Description
To bring the scene to life, combine dialogue, action, and description – this will make the visuals pop and keep conversations from dragging on.
By incorporating these elements into their dialogue, you can create conversations that are engaging, meaningful, and memorable.
How to Improve Character Dialogue
Here are a few tips to improve character dialogue:
Craft the Atmosphere with Words
Dialogue can give the scene the right feel. The way characters talk can tell you about the setting, the time, and their emotions. Here’s some advice on using dialogue to set the mood:
Think about how the setting and time period might affect the way characters speak. For example, a character from the 1800s might use distinct language and phrasing than a character from the present day.
Use the characters’ words to give the reader a sense of place. Adding details about the setting can help readers picture the characters’ surroundings and see what’s going on.
What characters don’t say can be just as important as what they say. By using subtext, you can create tension and conflict between characters.
Including these theme elements in writing will make the story more powerful and create a deeper connection with readers.
Write Dialogue Naturally
One of the most important things to keep in mind when writing dialogue is that it should sound natural. Characters should speak the way real people do, with all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that come with that. But writing natural dialogue can be tricky. Here are a few tips to help:
♦ Listen to how people talk in real life.
♦ Pay attention to the rhythms and cadences of their speech.
♦ How do your characters use language to express emotion.
♦ Avoid overly formal or stilted dialogue try to keep their language simple and conversational.
♦ Consider using dialect or colloquialisms to give your characters a unique voice.
Formatting and Editing Dialogue
Here are a few tips to format and edit your dialogue.
Not only is it key to write natural dialogue, but you gotta get the format right. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
♦ Use quotation marks to show when a character is speaking.
♦ Use double quotation marks (“…”) to enclose dialogue.
♦ Single quotation marks (‘…’) can indicate a quote within a quote.
♦ Use a new paragraph each time a new character speaks.
♦ Use dialogue tags (e.g. “he said,” “she asked”) to indicate who is speaking, but use them sparingly.
♦ Too many tags can distract readers or make the dialogue feel choppy.
♦ Place punctuation inside the quotation marks
♦ Use ellipses for interrupted speech
♦ Use em dashes for abrupt interruptions
♦ Use italics for emphasis
♦ Avoid using all caps
Once you’ve written your dialogue, it’s important to edit it carefully. Here are a few things to look out for:
♦ Read the dialogue aloud to yourself. This can help you find clunky phrasing or dialogue that sounds unnatural.
♦ Check for sections where the conversation is too obvious. Characters don’t need to blurt out every thought or emotion.
♦ Keep the dialogue moving at the right speed. If a scene is tense or action-packed, the dialogue should show that.
♦ Check for consistency
♦ Remove any dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward
♦ Vary the length and structure of sentences
♦ Don’t use dialogue as an excuse to dump information on the reader.
♦ Use body language and action to enhance dialogue
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Examples of Memorable Dialogue
Most times you remember lines of dialogue from movies and books. I know that I can recite most of the lines for The Breakfast club, my favourite movie.
Pride and Prejudice
This famous opening line sets the tone for the entire novel and establishes the importance of marriage as a central theme.
♦ It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Jane Austen author)
Gone with the Wind
Scarlett O’Hara’s famous line of dialogue perfectly captures her indomitable spirit and determination.
♦ After all, tomorrow is another day! (Margaret Mitchell author)
This famous opening line sets the stage for the novel’s exploration of the complexities of family life.
♦ All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Leo Tolstoy author)
This line of dialogue encapsulates the book’s theme of self-discovery and personal growth.
♦ It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. (Paulo Coelho author)
Man’s Search for Meaning
This powerful line of dialogue gets to the heart of the book’s theme of finding meaning and purpose in life.
♦ I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become. (Viktor E. Frankl author)
10 Tips for Developing Memorable Dialogue
There are lots of ways writers can create memorable dialogue. My advice…
1. Make each character’s voice distinct:Each character should have their own unique voice and way of speaking that reflects their personality, background, and motivations.
2. Use dialogue to reveal character: Dialogue can be a powerful tool for revealing a character’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations. Use it to show rather than tell.
3. Show, don’t tell: Avoid using dialogue to convey information. Instead, use it to create dynamic and engaging conversations that move the story forward.
4. Keep it realistic: Dialogue should sound natural and authentic. Avoid using overly formal language or dialogue that feels stilted or forced.
5. Use subtext: Subtext can add depth and complexity to dialogue, allowing characters to communicate on multiple levels.
6. Use action and description to break up dialogue: Interspersing action and description can help create visual imagery and prevent dialogue-heavy scenes from becoming stagnant.
7. Keep it concise: Dialogue should be concise and to the point. Avoid unnecessary exposition or long-winded speeches.
8. Use dialect and slang sparingly: Dialect and slang can add authenticity to dialogue, but use them sparingly to avoid overwhelming the reader.
9. Avoid overusing dialogue tags: Use dialogue tags like “he said” or “she asked” sparingly to avoid repetition. Use action and description to identify the speaker whenever possible.
10. Edit and revise: Like any other aspect of writing, editing and revising is key to improving your dialogue. Read your dialogue out loud to check for pacing, flow, and authenticity, and be willing to make changes as needed.
Last Words on Memorable Dialogue
Writing effective dialogue is an important skill for any fiction writer. By using these tips, you can create dialogue that sounds natural, moves the plot forward, and reveals character traits and motivations. Remember to format your dialogue correctly, use it to create atmosphere, and edit it carefully. With practice, you’ll be writing like a pro in no time.
Feature image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay