Posted by: nancycurteman | May 26, 2016

How to Write Compelling Dialogue

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th-1In order to use dialogue effectively you need to understand its purpose. Dialogue must reveal character, advance plot, make characters real and suggest or provide action. Your job is to imagine ways you can use dialogue to meet these goals and still hold reader interest. Here are some strategies to ensure that your dialogue does its job:
  • Vary the length of dialogue lines. Don’t have characters speak in long, complicated sentences unless you want to create a boring story person.
  • Intersperse dialogue with action: Mary threw open the bedroom door. “She’s gone!”
  • Interject interior thoughts: Mary knew John would be angry if Sam appeared at the door. She tried to act nonchalant but she had to figure a way to get him to leave as soon a possible. “I had a great time. Call me.”
  • Insert some setting description: Mary realized she had overdressed for the dinner date. High heels and a silk dress didn’t work for a roadside restaurant with old wooden tables, hard-backed chairs, greasy menus and truck drivers in jeans and sweatshirts. She searched for something to say. “Is this one of your favorite restaurants?”
  • Replace some dialogue with short summaries: John and Mary chatted for awhile about the movie they’d just seen. Mary checked her watch. John caught the hint and stood.
  • Pair action with dialogue: “I’m sick of your nagging,” Mary said and slammed the door as she left the house.
  • Use action to identify a speaker: “I’m sick of your nagging.” Mary slammed the door as she left the house.
  • Add simple actions to dialogue: “Yes,” she said, taking of sip of water or noticing the mailman or stirring the pasta or picking threads off her pants.
  • Interrupt dialogue with sounds unrelated to the conversation: She paused at the sound of screeching car brakes or a yowling cat or the baby crying.
  • Replace words with gestures: He shrugged or nodded.
  • Eliminate unnecessary chit-chat and social niceties. We use them in real life but they are boring in print.
  • Use informal language with incomplete sentences and some incorrect grammar. Real people don’t always speak in complete sentences with perfect grammar.

Do you have other ideas for ensuring that dialogue is readable and advances plot, reveals character and add action? We’d love to hear them.

More Tips:

How to Solve the Interior Monologue Mystery
Dialogue: Body Language Communicates More Than Words
4 Ways to Keep Dialogue Interesting


  1. Reblogged this on H.E.A. (Happily Ever After) and commented:
    Great tips on using dialogue effectively.


  2. Great tips for dialogue. Thank you so much for this! 🙂


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