Composition Writing | 3 ways to write a good line of dialogue
Often, when I mark compositions, I come across lines of dialogue that sound like this.
“Oh no! I am late!”
“How are you?”
“I am at the bakery!”
Are these good lines of dialogue? Although people talk like this in real life, all of these lines of dialogue make for boring conversations! In story writing, everything you write has to push the story forward, no matter what. At LBM, we encourage the students to write a line of dialogue when they start a composition, but we need to learn how to write a good line of dialogue to start the story.
So how do we write a good line of dialogue? Let me give you three tips!
Creative Writing Workshop
Our instructors will aim to:
teach you to describe a setting vividly using your five senses
introduce two ways of building up towards the climax of a story via characters and insertion of clues
provide you with a framework (AIM) to create compelling characters
aid you in adding details to the climax of a story
show the transference and application of techniques in composition writing
Tip number #1: Think about what the character wants
At the start of the story, how does the character feel? If it is a hot day, it’s all too easy for the character to say, “Oh, it’s so hot!”
But you must think deeper. Because of how the character feels, it means that he must want something! If the character feels very hot, what do you think he would want?
A cold drink?
To lie down in air-conditioning?
All of these three answers are correct!
You can write a line of dialogue like this:
“Oh, I would kill for a chocolate ice cream,” I mumbled to myself as I rushed out of the school gates.
Tip number #2: Think about who the character is talking to!
If it helps, you can think of what your main character would say to the second character at the start of the story. If you and your best friend were at the swimming pool, what would you say to him?
Think about what the both of you would want to do!
Do you want to jump into the pool to see who can make the biggest splash?
Do you want to play tag and race him or her to the pool?
Do you want to playfully push him into the pool?
You can use any of these three ideas! Let’s choose the second idea and change it into a line of dialogue.
“Last one in the pool is a rotten egg!” I shouted.
Tip number #3: Think about how the character feels about the problem
Sometimes, if you plan your story from the climax onwards, this means you’ll know what happens at the end of the story. If you’re writing a story about cheating in a test, then you know that your main character in the story will cheat in the test.
Because you know what he will do later, you can hint that something bad is going to happen in the line of dialogue.
What would your main character say at the start of the story?
Would he look forward to taking the test?
Would he hope and pray that the questions would be easy?
Would he hope that he did not have to use his “secret weapon”?
Because of this, you can write:
“I sure hope that I don’t need to use my ‘secret weapon’,” Gareth prayed.
In this way, this line of dialogue intrigues the examiner and make him or her want to read more!
So how do we fix the first scene with Ms Xie at the bakery?
How is she feeling?
Maybe she is feeling peckish?
Maybe she wants to have her favourite Portuguese egg tarts?
So what would she say?
Let’s see how we can transform this into a line of dialogue.
“Do you think my favourite egg tarts are still in stock?” Ms Xie asked Cynthia. Last Saturday, Ms Xie and Cynthia were at the bakery buying bread.
So how can you write a good line of dialogue?
#1 Think about what the character wants
#2 Think about what the first character would say to a second character
#3 And lastly, think about how the character’s thoughts and feelings about the problem
These tips work for different topics and there is no one size fits all solution. Ultimately, make sure that the dialogue moves the story forward and will pique the curiosity and interest of the reader.
Ms. Xie is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. Her best subject has always been English and she's been writing ever since she could hold a pen. Her first book, Dragonhearted, was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award in 2014 and published in 2016. It was also shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards in 2017. She also won the Hedwig Anuar Children's Book Award in 2018.