Among the most difficult elements to write in any story is dialogue. There’s a fine art to ensuring that it doesn’t slow the narrative and come off as dull.
Good dialogue generally contains eight features.
Moves the story forward
Interesting dialogue centers on characters working toward achieving their goals. If their words don’t arise from their motivations, then it’s just filler. In short, there must be a point to the dialogue.
Shows the characters’ thoughts and feelings regarding their motivations and goals
Readers will be able to infer what a character desires and attempting to achieve by what they say. The alternative is characters spouting exposition, which always slows the story.
Dialogue will read as people would speak, which typically is less formal than how they would write. Hence, it’s okay to use improper grammar, so long as it sounds authentic.
…but not too natural Because dialogue needs to be tight and concise, no words can be wasted. Always get rid of the “ums,” “uhs” and “wells” in written dialogue.
Get the punctuation right
Even if the dialogue is tightly written, not using quotation marks and commas correctly can make it confusing to read. And don’t go crazy with the punctuation – a single exclamation point rather than three of them will do when a character shouts.
Use attribution only if needed
There’s no need to tell who is speaking after every line is delivered when there are only two speakers. Doing so slows the pace and distracts readers from what the characters said.
Avoid telling how character spoke
Dump the verbs that describe how they spoke (shouted, sobbed, laughed) and the adverbs (said jokingly, said cruelly). The words in the dialogue should infer to readers the character’s tone of voice.
Don’t overdescribe in the text surrounding dialogue
Too many details in the text during a dialogue exchange can distract readers from what the characters said. For example, readers usually don’t need to know how a person is standing; the words a character spoke should suggest his stance.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.