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Boring Dialogue? Make Sure You're Doing These Things...

By Kirsten Nicole

July 24, 2024

Since my current work-in-progress is a play, you can imagine there is quite a bit of dialogue writing. And you would be right.

Interesting how the Lord works. Dialogue has always been one of my favorite parts to write in fiction, and He's brought me to the edge of playwriting for a time. Maybe a long time. Who knows?

I love listening to the way people talk around me, the unique and diverse ways that people express themselves, even when speaking the same language! I love hearing a conversation in my head and putting it on paper, and I love doing it in a way that sounds authentic. Stilted dialogue is the bane of my existence. Worse yet, stilted info-dump dialogue. I want to do soooo many things with a fictional conversation, and I want you not to notice it's happening!

Sneaky, eh?

You may think dialogue is simply a conversation between two people, and once again, you would be right. In part. But it is so much more than just a conversation between two people. Dialogue should develop a character, create tension, relay important information, and ALWAYS further the story. Yes, it should be doing all of these things at the same time! And you shouldn't notice that it's being done!

Dialogue develops character by giving a distinct and memorable voice to those characters. I find dialects fascinating! Even if all the characters in a scene live in the same demographic, there should still be nuance in their speech. For example, an 80-year-old woman will speak differently than a 18-year-old boy, even if they grew up in the same town. For that matter, a 30-year-old and a 20-year-old will talk differently. Genders talk differently. Races talk differently. Someone who is lacking self-confidence in a room of strangers will talk differently than a preacher visiting a sick church member. And a writer harnesses those differences and uses them to develop character. If you're curious at all about your own dialect (I know, I know, everyone else has an accent. You're the only one on planet earth who talks "normal"), I have taken the New York Times Dialect Quiz so many times. It pinpoints where you live based on what vocabulary or pronunciations you use. It is so much fun!

So, not only should dialogue develop character, it should also create tension. In a conversation, the characters should want something...the tension comes from..."will they get it?"And usually the characters want something vastly different. Or perhaps they want the same thing, but they have different ways of getting it. Rarely is dialogue purely happy and conflict-free. The tension and conflict further the story and push it toward the climax.

Dialogue can also relay important information that the reader or audience does not already know. This can be very tricky however. Dialogue can become a cop out way of dumping information that the writer didn't take the time to convey in some other way. And readers/audiences pick up on this so fast. Info-dump dialogue becomes stilted, awkward, and forced in the blink of an eye, and it takes a reader/audience member out of the story, breaking the suspension of disbelief.

Another thing readers/audience members recognize right away is pointless dialogue. A conversation must have purpose in pushing the story forward.

So, am I thinking of all these things as I write a play or conversation in a novel? No. I usually focus on one thing at a time, but I do go back and layer it all when I go through the editing process.

But there is a little hint at the behind-the-scenes of writing a conversation! Comment below, actors and writers, with your favorite piece of dialogue you've ever written/delivered!

1 Comment

Jul 26, 2023

This is so helpful to me! I feel as though I'm awful at writing dialogue. Anytime I write it it just seems so unnatural and forced. I also don't know how format it correctly.

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