Why Are You Talking so Loud? : Dialogue

I love writing dialogue. I don’t think I keep it much of a secret that I love writing dialogue. It is, I find personally, one of the most fun parts of writing; getting your characters to interact and seeing how all their voices harmonize, or clash, together.

Dialogue isn’t necessary to writing, but it’s still present to some extent in most pieces of work. It can give some variety instead of having nothing but description. It also, literally, shows the readers your characters’ voices in a way the narrative may not, depending on the point of view used.

There are a few (more like several, I’m sure) factors that go into writing dialogue. The main ones that I can think of off the top of my head are:

Know Your Characters

This is both necessary in the sense of personality and dialect. You need to know what and what not a character would say, as well as any slang or such they might use. Dialogue can be a great way to demonstrate their characteristics or their relationship with other characters – the words they use and the way they speak can say something significant about them as well. This is why knowing your characters is so important: dialogue is one of many possible lenses through which a character can be shown.

Dialogue Tags and the Writing in Between

It can be difficult sometimes to balance dialogue with its tags (said, asked, replied, shouted, etc.) and descriptions versus the actual dialogue. That being said, it’s also important to the flow. On one hand, in a long span of dialogue, I don’t usually want to have just the dialogue itself for paragraphs on end – on the other, having unnecessary descriptions of what the characters are doing at the time is a no-no too. I think this is a common concern for most people while writing dialogue. Thankfully, if need be, there are plenty of things that can be interspersed with dialogue that’s also important to the story: the characters thoughts, reactions, whatever’s happening around the characters that are speaking.

Staying on Track

This is the same technically for any part of writing in that you do kind of need to stay on track. What that looks like will be different for every story/writer, and certain genres will allow for more rambling than others. For example, comedy can allow for lots of wandering dialogue so long as it succeeds the goal of being funny, but you wouldn’t necessarily see the same in an action-oriented book. Overall, though, dialogue will probably have a point of some kind and lots of conversations that characters would be having in the story don’t necessarily need to be written out.

Realistic Conversation

Realistic in this case doesn’t mean realistic in quite the literal sense: a conversation you might see in a comedy skit or a romantic drama or a soap opera on TV all won’t likely be anything real people would say in real life. I think this falls under the suspension of disbelief somewhat. Fiction isn’t usually going to emulate reality perfectly because that isn’t the point, but as with all things in writing, the suspension of disbelief for dialogue can be stretched too thin. It’s like the first point of knowing your characters: is this something they would realistically say? Does the dialogue feel too forced? (Both of these can be hard to gauge, of course, especially if overthinking your writing comes into play). Besides that, in terms of the dialogue being about a dragon or something, the dialogue can be as unrealistic as possible.

These are some fairly overgeneralized points, but ones I think do cover most of the basics that I understand when I think of dialogue. The same as any part of writing, dialogue is a tool for the story, and it can be a hefty one in the metaphorical toolbox depending on an author’s writing preferences.