There are essential dialogue writing rules to follow if one expects to write a good story. After all, dialogue is what makes a story’s characters lifelike and relatable—it can also help keep the story interesting and engaging.
But writing dialogue in a story is often easier said than done. Follow these six tips for writing more believable and compelling dialogue between characters, whether that’s in a short story, book, screenplay, or something else.
1. Use quotation marks
One of the absolute dialogue writing rules is using quotation marks. This is a must. If you think that you can get away without using those pesky little marks, try it. Try writing a story without using quotation marks, and then go back and read it to yourself. Quotation marks indicate what’s spoken and what’s not—they guide the reader in the story.
2. Give speaker their own line or paragraph
Each speaker needs to be given their own line or paragraph. This is another one of those dialogue writing rules that has to be followed to the letter. Even if it’s only one line and they are talking about the same subject, they need to be separated.
This allows the reader to read along and know when one character is finished and the other is responding without the writing having to refer to them as he said, she said, constantly.
3. Make it clear who is speaking
Give life to the phrases not only by indicating who is speaking it but also by describing the character’s reaction or actions while speaking the words. This is one of those dialogue writing rules that a good writer will never ignore.
4. Vary speech tag use
Proper usage of the speech tag is one of those important dialogue writing rules. Some people tend to always use them at the end of sentences repetitively. This gets boring after a while. A good writer will vary the use of the speech tags by placing them in different parts of the sentence. Some sentences can start off with a speech tag while still others can break in the middle with a speech tag. The use of a speech tag can be eliminated altogether when a sentence is used identifying the actions of the speaker and leading up to their comment.
Many fledgling writers feel that they are overusing the word “said” as they add the speech tags. They feel that they need to vary by adding adverbs but in reality this only creates more problems. A good writer will learn use one of the dialogue writing rules to convey those adverbs in the context of the actual dialogue eliminating the need for stating the adverbs. By learning how to do this, one is truly becoming a master storyteller.
5. Use dialogue with a purpose
Don’t put in dialogue just for the sake of having your characters talk. They need to have a reason to speak. Good dialogue writing rules dictate that dialogue is used to move the plot along and reveal characters’ personalities. It needs to be a substitute for narration.
Never use dialogue and narration to tell the reader the same thing. Dialogue can reveal the character’s intention in the story and also set the tone. By asking yourself if your dialogue serves one of those purposes and having the answer come back as “yes”, then you’ll know that you are using dialogue correctly.
6. Written dialogue should sound real
Always keep in mind that good written dialogue should mimic actual speech that one hears around them. This means not following perfect grammatical wordings. Spend some time listening to the people around you talk and you’ll find that most of them speak in some kind of slang. “Um” and “like” are two words that one commonly hears in a spoken dialogue. Using them in dialogue will lend an air of reality to them. Although this isn’t grammatically correct, it’s one of those good dialogue writing rules to follow
Good dialogue writing rules are simply rules to guide a writer in putting together the most realistic sounding dialogue that will pull the reader along in your story. Consider pasting a list of all of the dialogue writing rules someplace where you can refer to them as you are writing dialogue and you are sure to burn these dialogue writing rules into your brain. You’ll be writing dialogue like a pro after time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Matthews is a professional copywriter and editor for the Write Stuff and the Green Machine In addition, Jordan has authored and self-published four ebooks and works as a high school mathematics teacher.