Techniques For Improving Dialogue #writers

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Dialogue is one of the most important parts of a story, and yet is easily overlooked. Before I began taking writing seriously years back, I used to assume writing dialogue was easy. I mean, how hard could it be? We use dialogue every day as we communicate with other people. I should instantly have a knack for it, right?

Wrong. Oh so wrong, Rawls. It might be easy to whip up things for characters to say, but to whip up dialogue that adds meaning to the story and moves the plot forward, as well as adding insight into who the characters are…well, that is far from easy.

Great dialogue adds something special to the story. It makes it shine, stand out, serve a purpose that goes beyond mere words.

“You can write the sharpest, most glittering, wisest, poetic, hilariously dazzling dialogue, but if that dialogue doesn’t do its true work and open the dramatic world underneath, it’s dead on arrival.” John Guare

“The truth is that a tight and snappy dialogue exchange can often do the work of several pages of prose.” Donald Maass, Writing 21st Century Fiction

So how do you go about mastering the art of dialogue like a pro? Practice is the obvious answer. But what exactly is it that you should practice?

This week, I came across an article on Writing Geekery: Advanced Techniques and Insights for Jaw-dropping Dialogue that lists some of the best advice for writing dialogue I’ve come across online. I encourage you to read through it. MJ Bush did an amazing job with the topic, and she managed to explain it in a way that’s simple and easy to follow. She suggests that the best dialogue does three key things: Feed the larger story, intrigue the reader, and surprise the reader in new ways. She then goes into further detail about how we can master those three keys in our story dialogue.

Just reading about how to write great dialogue is only the first part, though. Afterwards, you’ve got to put what you learn into practice, and there’s no easy way to go about it. Just roll up your sleeves and dive into work! Writing short fiction is a good way to start.

While working on my dastardly behemoth novel Strayborn, I’ve been writing short stories and novellas on the side. Practicing your writing skills on short stories is a faster, easier-to-digest way of honing things like dialogue, plot, character arc, and so on. When I look back at my writing of just four years ago, I’m shocked by how much I’ve changed and grown as a writer, and I know the majority of it was by putting into practice what I learned in short stories.

How often do you write short stories? Is writing dialogue easy for you, or something you’re working on? What are your thoughts on Writing Geekery’s article?

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6 thoughts on “Techniques For Improving Dialogue #writers

  1. I love dialogue. It’s one of my favorite things to write in a story. But it has to be purposeful, whether it reveals something important about a character, advances the plot, offers a crucial piece of world-building… So I agree with all of M.J. Bush’s points about dialogue. Especially the parts about avoiding info-dumps in dialogue, or avoiding sharing information that other characters already know.

    It’s funny, because I was working on dialogue for a scene in my new WIP. It’s one of the most important conversations in the whole story, and I want to make sure that every sentence matters. Maybe it’s not worded in the best way (it is a first draft, after all), but the emotion conveyed or information shared needs to be there on the page.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, that “avoiding sharing info that other characters already know” can be a tricky one!

      I think with each draft we continue to tweak the dialogue more. As long as the emotion and information is present in the dialogue, then you can always tweak specific word choices later.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I became enamored with dialogue in High School while reading Shakespeare. I was amazed by how playwrights could tell an entire story using characters’ conversations. But… I quickly learned there are thousands of tiny nuances in novels which can derail the natural feel of a conversation.

    I fluctuate between two extremes: too much information from too many plots points in the story, or not enough information vaguely stated in a way a reader can’t connect with. It’s a struggle, but I enjoy it!

    A professor finally introduced me to writing short stories a few years ago. They have one or two overarching problems, a simple cast of characters, and a concrete beginning and end. I’ve been trying to write them alongside novels to keep the plumbing from getting clogged so to speak. My personal pace is about three or four shorter works every year alongside larger works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m right there with you on those two extremes! I think the majority of writers can relate to that. It’s one of those things that takes time to master, even when we’d rather race ahead and master instantly.

      Yes, I’ve heard that writing short stories can help a writer master the art of storytelling better. It’s a great way to practice plotting, as well as dialogue, and can help you expand your story’s world in a new light.


  3. Writing flash fiction has definitely taught me a lot about writing concisely and making every word count, including in dialogue. Good tips!

    Liked by 1 person

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