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Talking About Talking... Redux

Updated: Apr 26

We've talked about dialogue before on this channel, but it turns out I have more to say! For the previous section of dialogue review check out the website here.


Now, let's dive into more about dialogue.


Lets talk about...

Writing good dialogue can be very, very challenging, but some aspects tend to pose particular difficulties for us as writers. Here are some of the eight (IMO) hardest parts of crafting effective dialogue:

 

  1. Make it natural: Ensuring that dialogue sounds authentic and natural is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects. Dialogue should reflect how people in your world actually speak, including pauses, interruptions, slang, and colloquialisms. Striking a balance between realism and readability can be tricky. This is doubly so if you are deep into world building where the dialogue is building up the world for you with new phrases and hidden meanings.

  2. Unique character voice: Each character should have a distinct voice that reflects their personality, background, and motivations. Maintaining consistency in character voices throughout the dialogue while still allowing for growth and development can be difficult, especially in stories with multiple characters. What comes out of the mouth of one person should not be replaceable with another person, most of the time. The unique wants, observations and viewpoints should be unique to each character.

  3. Subtext: Good dialogue often contains layers of meaning beyond the literal words spoken. Subtext can convey character relationships, conflicts, hidden agendas, and emotions. Balancing subtlety with clarity, so readers can pick up on these underlying elements without feeling spoon-fed, requires skill and usually an architectural unpinning that the author knows exactly what they wanted the dialogue to express.

  4. Pacing and Flow: Dialogue should contribute to the overall rhythm and pacing of the story. It should move the plot forward, reveal character traits, and maintain reader interest. It can be put between action beats, or action beats can be placed between conversations, but the reality of most worlds is that we are surrounded by conversations. Finding the right balance between exposition, action, and conversation can be challenging, especially in scenes which are dialogue heavy.

  5. Exposition: Delivering necessary information through dialogue without it feeling forced or unnatural is a common challenge. Writers must find creative ways to weave exposition seamlessly into conversation, avoiding "info-dumps" or awkward dialogue solely intended for conveying information to the reader. Perhaps one of the most important lessons we will delve into is order of conversation. Don’t tell readers information before they need it.

  6. Conflict and Tension: Engaging dialogue often involves some level of conflict or tension between characters. Creating believable arguments, disagreements, or power struggles that propel the story forward while remaining true to each character's motivations can be difficult to achieve consistently. In all dialogue there should be a back and forth, with each person wanting something from the conversation. If you don’t know what it is they want, ask yourself why they are speaking about it?

  7. Showing Emotion: Dialogue is an essential tool for revealing characters' emotions, but conveying these feelings effectively through words alone can be challenging. Writers must use dialogue tags, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice to show emotional states without relying too heavily on adverbs or explicit descriptions. This is very hard and relies on all the interactions and dialogue which came before the emotional moment to make it emotional instead of melodramatic.

  8. Avoiding Clichés: Steering clear of clichéd or overused expressions, tropes, and dialogue patterns is crucial for maintaining originality and keeping readers engaged. Finding fresh and inventive ways for characters to express themselves requires creativity and careful attention to language. Unless of course you find those tropes useful!

 

Mastering dialogue writing takes practice, feedback, and a keen ear for language. Experimenting with different techniques, studying well-written dialogue in literature and film, and soliciting input from beta readers or writing groups can all help improve dialogue skills over time. In this series we will explore the items above, how to do dialogue well, with examples of good and bad dialogue from books and movies.

 

In the meantime, go write some arguments down, and always remember, writers write.

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I would love to see some examples please! It's always fun to do a post-mortem on a patch of dialogue.

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