how to write dialogue in a story livingwriter

How to Write Dialogue in a Story that’s Natural

Dialogue is crucial in any novel. It is one of the many ways characters interact with each other. It may seem simple at first glance, but knowing how to write dialogue in a story may be harder than you thought. 

Aside from known conventions and formats in dialogue writing, you also need to understand when to use them so that they sound natural when read. You should also make sure that you’re not abusing them, or else the entire scene might come across as boring or wordy to the reader.

In this piece, we’re presenting you not just guidelines on how to write dialogue in a story, but also tips on how to write dialogue that’s impactful and natural.

Dialogue Formatting

Dialogue may look as simple as adding quotation marks to statements, but there are more guidelines you can follow to give your editor less of a headache when going through your manuscript.

Dialogue tags outside of the quotes

Dialogue tags indicate the owner or speaker of the spoken dialogue. These tags are always outside of the quotes, and they can be placed before and after the statement. Here are some examples:

Todd shouted, “Be careful of the road!”

“Be careful of the road!” he shouted.

Notice that when dialogue tags come first, there is always a comma before the statement. The statement still starts with a capital letter despite being in the middle of the sentence since it is the first thing that the character spoke. 

Take note also of the non-capitalized letter after the statement when the dialogue tag is placed at the end of the statement. No matter what the punctuation of the statement is, since the tag is still in the middle of the statement, it will be in small letters.

For neutral statements, commas are usually placed at the end of the statement then the tag.

There’s also a special placement of the dialogue tag, which is in the middle of a statement. Check the example below.

“Don’t sweat it,” he remarked. “It didn’t affect me at all.”

Single quotes

When characters try to quote other characters, you can use single quotes to differentiate the quoted text. For example:

Alex noted, “I remember Mark saying that he ‘would never go back there’.”

Interruptions or actions in between dialogue

There are many ways to express an action happening in the middle of a dialogue. One simple way is to simply introduce the action in a pause.

“If the sun rises in the west,” he gestured to the maid to move forward, “then perhaps I’d think about it.” 

“We can decide about it later.” She took her phone up to her ear. “For the meantime, I’ll be calling someone else.”

If there is no place for a pause in the dialogue, you can use em dashes (not to be confused with hyphens), as in the example below.

“I really don’t miss” — she poured herself a new cup of tea — “anything from that wretched place.”

Em dashes can also be used to indicate a dialogue interruption by another character.

Stephen tried to catch up. “I can explain—” 

“Don’t even bother,” interrupted Eric.

Long speeches

If your character speaks long enough to warrant two paragraphs, you can place an opening quotation mark but not a closing one on the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, you need to add both the opening and closing quotation marks.

“I remember those bright, sunny days I spent at the villa. I think they’re unforgettable memories that I wouldn’t exchange for the world.

“The scent of Grandma’s sweet pancakes, the smell of fresh sunflowers and mud, and the sight of the rising sun over the horizon simply fill my heart with so much happiness, happiness that I only ever had while I was young.”

New speaker

If a new speaker talks, you should place their statement in a new paragraph. This includes their dialogue tag and any other action they did before, during, or after the statement.

If the conversation is only between two people, you can even opt to not place their names anymore, as long as you retain the rule of having a new paragraph per speaker.

Stephen tried to catch up. “I can explain—” 

“Don’t even bother,” interrupted Eric.

“But you deserve to know everything.”

“You think knowing about it now would change anything?”

Dialogue that’s Natural and Effective

Now that you know the basic formatting for dialogues, it’s time to know how to write natural dialogue that progresses the plot or an interaction. Truly great dialogues do not just have great formatting, but are also realistic enough to actually occur between people.

Read it out loud

Writing out a dialogue may turn out different when it is read, so to make sure your dialogues are realistic, read them out loud. It might surprise you how unnatural some statements may be when spoken compared to when it’s written.

Give each character their idiosyncrasies

Part of knowing how to write dialogue in a story is knowing your characters in-depth. Each character is different, and part of what makes them different can be reflected in their speech patterns. Of course, not every character has to have a peculiar way of speaking, but even minor changes can suffice.

how to write dialogue in a story livingwriter story elements
LivingWriter’s Story Elements can be helpful in listing out character idiosyncrasies.

Of course, LivingWriter’s Story Elements shine bright in this aspect. With Story Elements, you can define your character and their idiosyncrasies beforehand. When you’re writing your first draft, you can easily pull up this information and not miss a chance to show how unique your characters are.

Keep it short but meaningful

Dialogue in books is one effective way of progressing the plot, but in order to do so, you need to cut out dialogue that doesn’t do anything meaningful to the scene.

Unless something is absolutely necessary (due to plot or character), cut it out and stick straight to meaningful dialogue. This especially refers to filler greetings and other dialogue you might use to pad content.

Don’t overuse long speeches

No character should ever speak in multiple paragraphs in one go. Although it may be necessary for them to speak for long, your dialogue doesn’t have to be as long.

Interject with body language cues and other actions, so that the scene doesn’t get too boring or long-winded.

Let it reflect your characters’ personalities

Conversations not only progress a plot, but also show a great deal of personality regarding a person. This is a more generalized tip from number 2, where you reflect a character’s prominent traits just by showing how they would talk. 

Just like in real life, we can gather what a person would be by talking with them. Character development can also occur in dialogue, and so you can also show it in the way they talk.

Dialogue Writing Made Easier

Knowing how to write dialogue in a story can be a bit of a challenge, especially knowing how to write dialogue that’s impactful and not just filler. However, as long as you make sure that each dialogue attempts to do something, whether it be progressing the plot or developing a character, writing dialogue becomes a bit easier. 

Of course, with LivingWriter, you don’t even have to worry about missing out chances to show off your characters’ personalities, so you can focus on writing what matters most: your book.

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