Story Dialogue Revealed - 12 Important Points of Dialogue in Novels

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Short Moments
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About the author

  • Short stories by AJ Barnett have been published since 1994 in magazines, summer specials, international competitions, broadcast on radio and recorded for audio books.

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WITHOUT REPROACH, set on the Costa Blanca. 25 miles north of Benidorm
WITHOUT REPROACH, set on the Costa Blanca. 25 miles north of Benidorm | Source

1. Follow the rules

"I've put genius into my life; I've only put talent into my words." - Oscar Wilde

How to write good dialogue in a story

Writing story dialogue #1 - What's it all about?

Rules for writing are sometimes bent a little, and sometimes broken .... but only by the reckless, feckless, or by those who understand exactly what they're doing and why. Convincing dialogue is one of the most potent tools a writer has, yet nothing puts readers off quicker than bad dialogue.

But why do we need dialogue?

  1. Dialogue adds to the picture by supplying pointers to character’s ages and upbringing.
  2. Dialogue can show up traits such as attitude problems.
  3. Dialogue between protagonists adds to the reader’s understanding of characters.
  4. Dialogue helps differentiate characters, especially minor ones, and shows relationships between them.

Writing story dialogue #2 - Talent.

It helps to have natural talent to succeed at writing, you certainly need to have drive, yet writing a story is a craft that can be taught. To start with, successful writers must love reading. If you don't read by the bucketful, how can you possibly write .... But there are also techniques to reading that you must be aware of.

Writing story dialogue #3 - Scrutinize, Analyze, Synthesize.

Most people read for enjoyment, not to analyze .... but as an author, analyze you must - and every darn book you pick up.

You have to change your attitude towards books. You must sift through and find what made a particular story successful.

  • How did the story develop, and what made the characters come 'alive' for you?
  • How was tension created?
  • Why did you like the tale, or fall in love with the hero or heroine?
  • What held your interest most and why?
  • What was the ratio of dialogue to descriptive work?
  • How did dialogue contribute to the story, to the characters, to tension between characters?

Writing story dialogue #6 - Dialogue could be fifty percent of your novel

At it’s best; writing dialogue advances the story and depicts characters far more plainly than descriptive writing. Descriptive writing might satisfy some artistic streak in you, but it often becomes an act of self-indulgence. Let’s face it, plain old narrative can be quite boring.

Who wants their story to be thought of as boring? It's far better to have a character describe something in dialogue than have reams of descriptive work.

Dialogue is also quite important to today’s brief concentration-span generation. Editors and publishers like to see lots of white space. They believe readers aren't held by long passages of narrative. This principle is used quite heavily in article-writing for the web. White space is important.

White space makes patterns, it creates the feeling of a picture on the page. It is preferable to a page of solid prose. Dialogue creates this naturally.

  • Up to 50% of your novel could be dialogue.
  • Story dialogue keeps your story dynamic.
  • Modern books steer clear of long pieces of narrative, modern readers want things to move - narrative slows things down. Story dialogue speeds it up.
  • Modern readers are brought up on a diet of TV and films - loads of dialogue - little narrative. They expect their literature to be the same. Confirm this in popular published books. Study in particularly, those in your genre.
  • Acceptance or rejection of your novel can hang on the balance and quality of your story dialogue.
  • If dialogue is going to compose half the novel, it had better be good.

So, toss that descriptive passage aside and concentrate on story dialogue. That description might be your pride and joy - it might be full of wonderful phrases and colourful words - but it can also weary the pants off people.

Dialogue - use a voice recorder and be amazed

Story dialogue must sound natural. This doesn't mean it must be true to life.... This might seem an odd statement, but just record a conversation between your friends and you'll be amazed at how disorderly it all is. People interrupt, and often don't finish sentences. Natural conversation is a garbled affair. The problem is, communication at face to face level involves body language, subtle intonation, and facial expressions. All of these convey information it's sometimes difficult to explain in our writing.

When you write dialogue, you have to make it more formal, yet it has to sound real. Try reading back a passage from your book and recording it on a cheap digital voice recorder to see if it sounds realistic.

Writing story dialogue #10 - Make dialogue plain, make dialogue obvious

Whether your novel is a Kindle Romance, or a fantasy, high-quality story dialogue can help readers readily identify with characters - to understand them - to empathize. If your characters hold what appears to be a natural conversation, readers will be caught up with their story. They will feel they are part of what’s going on.

Writing story dialogue #11 - Caught up in dialogue

Dialogue has many uses. It can shed light on complex conditions. Story dialogue can put us in the picture about the past, explain the present, and give suggestions about the future, but whatever way it’s used, it should always be obvious - it should be plain. When writing a story, remember that your reader must at all times grasp what your protagonists are on about, don't make your dialogue hazy. It’s a mistake to make oblique references to events from dozens of pages earlier. The only time you can get away with that is if the incident was so amazing that the reader is bound to remember.

Writing story dialogue #12 - Unbearable speech

When writing dialogue, be careful what you allow your characters to say. The area where people come from, often affects the way they speak. This doesn’t mean you should try to write in dialect or regional accent. The occasional use of a local expression can be enchanting, but a whole speech in dialect is almost unbearable to read.

Make dialogue plain, make dialogue good, and it might just make your book.

End of - writing story dialogue

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Comments 8 comments

ralwus 6 years ago

Gee thanks for another outstanding lesson. And Merry Christmas.


ajbarnett profile image

ajbarnett 6 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain Author

Thanks for that ralwus - and a Merry Christmas to you, too.


Terry Odell 6 years ago

Very nice. I'm doing a dialogue workshop in a couple of months; this is a helpful reminder of what belongs on the page and why.


ajbarnett profile image

ajbarnett 6 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain Author

Hey Terry, thanks. I really appreciate it when writing peers stop by and make positive comments.


Lane Diamond profile image

Lane Diamond 6 years ago from Butler, Wisconsin

As an editor, I thought your hub might be helpful to my clients and other readers of my blog. I thought you'd like to know I recommended and linked it there.

http://www.LaneDiamond.blogspot.com


Nichola 6 years ago

Thank you for all your blogs on writing. Its been very helpful (: Although I'm still a kid I want to grow up to become a good authoress. I think I should start small and these tips will help me. [:


ajbarnett profile image

ajbarnett 6 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain Author

Hi Lane and Nichola. Many thanks for reading and commenting on the hub. Glad you both found it useful. I'm grateful for any feedback, more especially when they are so genuine


Bob Ewing profile image

Bob Ewing 3 years ago from New Brunswick

This is a helpful hub, I will be referring to it now and then. thanks.

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