Today, I’m excited to share with you one important writing technique which you can add to your stories. We’re going to talk about how to write good dialogue in your stories.
We actually have a blog post on "How to Avoid Using ‘Said’ in Direct Speech" but if you are a visual learner, I think you might find this more useful.
To start off with, let me share with you the power of using dialogue. Dialogue is an essential part of the story. Not only does it help to break the monotony of the narration, but it can also help to give insight to characters and advance the plot.
However, your dialogue must be purposeful. When should we be using dialogue then? Use dialogue when
- important information is being revealed / shed light on the situation (moving plot forward)
- want to increase the suspense for what is to come (use dialogue to build that up)
- introduce a new character
At the end of the day, if a line of dialogue does not serve a purpose or relate to the story and characters in some way, it doesn’t belong. Since you are using your dialogue sparingly, you want to ensure that it is compelling for the reader.
Now, how do we go about doing it?
#1 Avoid using basic words like ‘said’, ‘told’ and ‘asked’ as dialogue tags.
When you use dialogue, it should convey the character’s intention and set the tone. When you ‘said’, ‘told’ and ‘asked’, these words do not convey the precise meaning you’re after. Find a more precise word that tells the reader how the person expressed his / her speech.
Take for example the dialogue, “I can’t believe it!” Gina said. Can you guess her emotion when she said this?
Could she be angry or happy? Let’s replace the word ‘said’ and see what happens:
(i) “I can’t believe it!” Gina whined - feeling upset / complaining about something
(ii) “I can't believe it!” Gina whispered - feeling astonishment
(iii) “I can’t believe it!” Gina squealed - feeling joy
Amass a list of possible verbs you can use in place of ‘said’, ‘told’ and ‘asked’ so that if and when you need to use dialogue, you can draw on the vocabulary easily.
#2 Add an action or expression
After finding a better word than ‘said’, you can add an action or describe the expression of the character when he or she speaks. The action or expression should further illustrate the character’s feelings. When you do this, you are additionally characterising the speaker.
Using the earlier examples,
- “I can’t believe it!” Gina whined as she waved her clenched fists in the air and stomped her feet - added action which illustrates a petulant child throwing a tantrum.
Alternatively, you can add an expression
(ii) “I can't believe it!” Gina whispered as her eyes grew as wide as saucers.-the phrase ‘eyes grew as wide as saucers’ indicates her surprise at the situation.
That’s it for today! I hope you have found this useful. If you are currently using simple dialogue, I hope that the tips I’ve shared above are things you can consider as you are crafting your dialogue. Do not feel overwhelmed by them. You can consider them one at a time. Start with varying your dialogue tags with vivid verbs before you move on to adding description. Rest assured, you’ll see improvements in your writing sooner than later! Having said that, I want to caution all of you against overusing it. Do not put in dialogue just for the sake of having your characters talk.
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About the Author: Ms Delia Siow is a dedicated teacher who is committed to providing an environment where a child can grow and thrive. She enjoys developing strategies to help students learn in a fun and meaningful way. Through her lessons, she hopes to help students lay a sound foundation in grammar and gain independence in their work. She strongly believes that good grammar is essential in students to gain proficiency in the language and finds joy in watching the bricks of their strong grammar foundation take form.
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