Mastering The Art Of Writing Effective Dialogue I Oxford Open Learning


    Mastering The Art Of Writing Effective Dialogue

    How To Write Authentic Conversation

    Dialogue can be the difference between success and failure in writing. It is a powerful tool that brings characters to life and enhances the narrative flow of any piece of writing. The skill to write compelling and realistic dialogue is essential to engage your readers and create immersive storytelling experiences. In this blog post, we will delve into the techniques and strategies that will help you master the art of writing effective dialogue.

    The first and most important thing when it comes to writing good dialogue is to use your ears. Listen to people. Not just those around you, but strangers in the street, people from miles away, different countries and cultures. Pay attention not just to what they say but how they say it. And also what they choose not to say.

    Dialogue Reveals Character

    Well-crafted dialogue provides insights into a character’s personality, emotions, and motivations.

    Each character should have a distinct voice, reflecting their unique traits, background, and worldview. Vary their syntax and speech patterns accordingly. Think about if they have any particular locutions that could identify them immediately. For example, you should be able to tell apart the Prime Minister and a lowly criminal in a scene. If you can’t, that’s a problem.

    Show, don’t tell! Instead of directly stating a character’s emotions or traits, allow them to reveal themselves through their dialogue. Use subtext, body language, and context to convey their true feelings. If you have a character who is nervous, what might they be doing with their hands? If your character is lying, one trait of a deceiver is to break eye contact or look away from the person they are deceiving. Little details like this are what engage your reader, as they decide for themselves as opposed to you simply saying “John lied.”

    Verbal sparring and banter: Inject humour and liveliness into your dialogue through playful banter or witty exchanges. This can help establish rapport between characters and make the dialogue enjoyable to read.

    Dialogue Drives Your Story

    Conflict drives the story and dialogue can be part of that conflict. Engage readers by incorporating conflicts and disagreements within conversations. This adds depth and realism to the dialogue, reflecting the complexities of human interactions. In any conversation—or scene for that matter—there should be some form of conflict, either between characters or them and the environment, no matter how minor. If you don’t have conflict, either re-write or cut it.

    You want to world-build? Avoid the lengthy paragraphs that read like a history book and instead drip-feed details through dialogue. Natural-sounding conversations provide essential background information without overwhelming the reader. Open your scene with a comment about the news or some recent event.

    Don’t Forget The Basics

    Dialogue mechanics can so easily go overlooked. You’d be surprised at just how many people forget the simple things when it comes to punctuating dialogue:
    New line, new speaker! Properly punctuate dialogue and use paragraphs to distinguish speakers. Start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes.

    Tags and beats should be used sparingly. And whatever you do, do not describe how things are said. If you have written it right, your reader will know. Your adverb will only serve to derail the flow. Said will suffice. Instead, break up conversation with action beats (small moments that move the story forward) to have a much greater effect on your story.

    Mastering the art of writing effective dialogue is a valuable skill that will elevate your storytelling abilities as a student. By focusing on character development, engagement, and dialogue mechanics, you can create conversation that feels authentic and enhances your narratives. Practice regularly, study the work of accomplished authors—Elmore Leonard is widely regarded as the author when it comes to dialogue—and refine your speech writing skills to captivate your readers and bring your characters to life. And don’t forget to listen!

    For more, check out this great piece on MasterClass which also has some recommended reading.

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