I’ve been studying dialogue. There are certain techniques that really help that I will explore over the next couple of blogs. Just to recap, Friday is all about writing skills and the Tuesday posts are short-stories derived from popular song lyrics.

So, this Friday and for the next couple of Fridays(I think), I will focus on dialogue as it relates to short-stories and novels. These comments stem from a whole host of Internet sites and blogs on the subject and also a fantastic book that I recommend called ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’ by Renni Browne and Dave King. There are many useful chapters in this book that I will recap in future blogs.

What is the the purpose of dialogue?

Every piece of dialogue you include should be there for a reason:

  • To break up the narrative — you can use dialogue to balance out the other elements of fiction such as the description.
  • To advance the plot — character discussions can ultimately change the course of the plot, and this is a very effective way of showing that change.
  • To develop conflict — arguing characters creates conflict and dialogue can build the tension.
  • To present information — dialogue can be used as an alternative way to present the necessary facts.
  • To develop character — Dialogue can reveal the personality, age, intelligence and experience of a character.


Showing the development of a character is one of the more important aspects of dialogue. Rather than simply telling the reader that a character has changed and is, for example, no longer shy, it is more effective to write a piece of dialogue in a scene where that character demonstrates that he/she has overcome the shyness, perhaps by approaching a complete stranger.

Dialogue is a very effective way to convey personality, and it is important to think through the ways in which a person of that personality will speak or present himself/herself to an audience. Is he timid? Is she assertive? Critical? Kind? Irritated? Passive? Well educated?

I find that the first few interactions of a new character really set the scene for how that person will behave throughout the story. So it is important to start right, and I usually spend a little while experimenting with the character before placing them in the scene proper. I might write a short piece where the character is interviewed with a set of questions about his/her life and likes/dislikes. The way in which the character answers helps to get me in the way of thinking for that character.

There are many blogs and websites out there that help you to think through different behaviour patterns and characteristics and I will add a small compendium of them to this blog at some point soon.

Some rules about dialogue. (Of course, when I say rule…all rules are there to be broken…perhaps guidelines would be more appropriate.)

  • Take out the superfluous conversations and summarise to one sentence. We don’t want ramblings about the weather or what the person had for breakfast. (they can use twitter for that!).
  • Be consistent. We all repeat ourselves, or use slang in certain ways. It adds authenticity to add that to a character.
  • Generally people talk in short sentences. Save the literary expositions for the narrative.
  • Be more articulate on the page than would normally be said in a certain situation – use a bigger vocabulary than the person might have.
  • Be VERY sparing about using action as a dialogue tag – it can work occasionally but not too often.

I’ll blog next week with more rules about the mechanics of dialogue. Hope this is useful – it is to me!