Home » Writing » What did she just say?

What did she just say?


That one word which can inspire excitement in some writers and dread in others.

The art of writing speech is something I struggle with. Not always, but on certain moments I completely and utterly fail to get dialogue to flow in a good manner. This usually is when I am writing a rather emotional or strong scene. My ability to form words apparently flees at the sight of human emotion through characters. It leaves me fumbling around with dialogue that makes my modern day girl sound like she’s a damsel from a Shakespearean tragedy (‘Oh woe is me, steal me from this place and we shall fly to the stars together…’ ) or like my male lead is a simpering fool from a comedy novel (‘Hurr hurr, you’re so perdy.’ ).

Oh yes, dialogue is one of the most important parts of writing and at times I feel it fly from my fingers like I’m in the middle of the character’s conversation. I can jot down every word and nuance they blurt and I love those times, but then there are times when I’m forcing it out and the speech feels stiff, and those are the moments I become frustrated. In those annoying times I’m about ready to make my book a type of silent-novel where everyone conveys their emotions through stern glances and exciting touches. I realise gestures and the absence of words can be even more powerful, but a lot of the time there has to be some speech.

But reading back through, ‘Stolen’ and my WIP novella I am working on now, there are some moments when I squeal in delight at the thought that I actually wrote something that I am proud of. I need to remember those times, to help keep me motivated to practice further and get better.

Books and movies do tend to help get me in the mood to write certain character’s dialogue, I have to be in a set frame of mind sometimes, I find, to get a character’s personality to come across right through their speech.

I guess the only answer to getting better at dialogue is to write it.

I read this post recently, ‘It has taste’ over at the blog, lettuce write! (which is a blog really worth your time to check out). It is a brilliant piece of dialogue and interaction that I aspire to write like!

I found a few places that offer tips for writing dialogue:

Write to Done- 10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Dialogue

Writing Tips by Alice Kuipers- 10 Tips for Writing Better Dialogue

About.com: Fiction Writing Top 8 Tips for Writing Dialogue

The general summary of advice seems to be:

– Don’t make speech too realistic (not too many, ‘um’ or hesitations).
– Don’t give too much information in one big chunk of speech.
– Avoid accents.

Now it’s time to get practicing!

Do you struggle with writing dialogue? Do you have any tips for those of us that do? Any snippets of dialogue you’ve written you want to share (because I’m *totally* not nosey or anything)?

Progress Report:

Word Count: 5250, over 2 days.

Status of Second Manuscript: Writing first draft (Total word count: 27,057)

February E-Book Review: Finished Reading.

64 thoughts on “What did she just say?

  1. Yup, much like most of my writing, my dialogue sucks. No tips to offer other than what ever it is I am doing, don’t do it.

  2. Dialogue. Yeah, I don’t think I’m very good at it.
    I wish I lived in a country where they speak the language I write. I’m always jealous of writers who get to eavesdrop on English conversations.

    • It is much easier to eavesdrop when you can understand it, though sometimes strangers notice me gawking at them trying to hear the interestingness of their convo! 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  3. Great post! 🙂 I don’t often struggle with dialogue when I’m actually writing it – It’s when I read it back later I sometimes cringe and think, ‘no one actually speaks like that…’

    The worst is definitely when you are using a character’s speech to try and explain something to your readers and it ends up reading back like an entry from an encyclopaedia!

    If I’m writing a particularly important or tricky bit of dialogue, I try and picture the scene as clearly as possible in my mind, as though it were a movie (or even a real conversation) rather than a book. I find if I can really ‘see’ the characters and their exchange, it becomes much easier to ‘hear’ the words they would use – and more importantly, avoid the ones they wouldn’t! 😉

    • Great advice, I do like to try and read my books whilst imagining them as a movie in my head, to make sure what I have written would translate well to real life 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      • I do the very same! I remember hearing JK Rowling talking about this, saying that since so much of Harry Potter’s world was fantasy, she had to explain a lot of things through dialogue and the only convincing way she could do it was to use either Hermione or Dumbledore. So perhaps the secret is to always have a very intelligent character close to hand 😉

  4. I love dialogue, but I find it tough to write. So thank you for the tips. I find that my dialogue sounds clunky and contrived when I stop focusing on character and instead cling to making my plot points.

    • Yeah I agree, I want to be able to get the information of the plot across without it sounding bulky or that I’ve lost the character amongst the info!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  5. I think it comes down to how well you know your characters. You should be able to slip in and out of their heads as they interact with each other; if you can’t, you need to work on your character development a bit more. Sometimes, one character will come across more realistically than another…that makes the rest all fall flat in comparison. By the time you get to the end of a novel, you are usually well into the flow of how your characters converse, so you can always go back and revisit any less than authentic patches. In my opinion, the main thing is to tell the story as much as you can through the characters dialogue, so the reader can feel immersed in what they are experiencing, how they are feeling and reacting.

    • That’s really good advice, dialogue is definitely something I need to work on to make it flow smoothly and come up with some memorable speeches 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      • I am no expert lol! but that’s what works for me! And I learned it from another writer who was beta reading my first book, and soon as it was pointed out I saw it straight away. Its one of those pieces of advice that has always stayed with me!

  6. A great article and the comments and links are really useful. Thank you!
    Like the rest of my writing, I read the dialogue out loud and that helps me ‘hear’ the characters better. I also think though, that there are some instances where less is more with speech.
    I especially like what Ali Isaac said — it seems like really spot on advice.

  7. You are right Harliqueen about dialogue being so important. I once wrote a short story in mostly all dialogue. A couple having an argument. It got to the final 3, but didn’t win. Shows how we can get in to character more by dialogue than anything else. Will check out the links, thanks.

    • Sometimes I can really get into a scene and it goes so well, it’s just other time I get so stuck. I think I will try and do some practice writing using only dialogue 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  8. Dialogue is probably my favorite part of the writing process. Whether or not I’m great at it is another story. And reading aloud does help 🙂

    • I think enjoying it helps, when things are going well and I’m having fun my writing definitely gets better, including the dialogue 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  9. Thanks for summing up all the advice – and linking all those articles (they’re really great!). I find punctuation tricky and often slip up.

    Goodness gracious Harliqueen – you linked me up! And said, and said … *faints dead away*

    I guess the biggest thing about dialogue (for me, personally) is to remember that I am writing people . Yes – they are fictional, but in my story they live and have a whole life – and the experience of it – behind them. Everything that person is colours what they say and do.

    And that knowledge helps me when I get stuck.

    I’m afraid I now have a favourite quote from your blog – Hurr hurr, you’re so perdy.


    (hey – do the html italic tags work?)

    • The italics did work, yes 🙂

      I thought your post was great, that was why I linked it, it was really amazing and the dialogue was written so incredibly well! I was jealous and in awe all at the same time 😀

      I am definitely going to have to get into character-mode more, to help the dialogue flow I think.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      • Jealous! You were jealous of me – me!

        *faints from rapture*

        I’ve typed what I want to say next over and over again – trying to find the perfect way to put it. Oh, scratch that. DON’T BE JEALOUS! Because every writer is unique. And that means me and that means you. Look at it, nod, note what made it work and what didn’t and then go away and write something better!

        Because you can.

        Because you’re worth it. (I’m sorry – really, really sorry but I just couldn’t help it.) 😀

      • I flicked my hair Loreal style at the end of that comment 😀

        Thanks for the encouragement, I’m hoping to improve and maybe someone one day will look at mine and think, ‘Oh, I like that dialogue!’ 🙂

    • I know, right? I can write a whole conversation and read it back and think, ‘is that really how I think people talk? Do I speak like that??’ 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  10. I love writing dialogue, but then I love listening to people. The rhythm of their speech, the phrases they use. I love the opportunity to get that down on paper. So . . . I’ve used “love” 3 times in this comment—can you tell I like dialogue?

  11. Yes, absolutely, definitely read it out loud. Find a quiet space where you can’t be seen or heard, and belt it out like it’s a radio script.

    Don’t be afraid of some redundancies and the occasional repetition for emphasis and… er… gaps… and… What was I saying? Oh yeah, you can always cut them out later if the prose is becoming too flabby.

    Sometimes in real dialogue we get to the point – much more so than when we start typing up dialogue. So get into real-life mode in your read-out-loud sessions. Try to relax, don’t be too conscious, try saying the same sentence again, this time as “naturally” as you can. It might not always work, but well worth a try.

    • Great advice! I definitely think reading aloud will improve my dialogue, it certainly sounds a lot different when said out loud and I can hear bits that sound a bit heavy or that sound good.

      Thanks again for the advice 🙂

  12. Great post! Turns out I am guilty of at least two dialogue ‘mistakes’. I have been trying to keep my dialogue as ‘realistic’ as possible (with a couple of ‘ums’ thrown in for good measure) and I do like accents. I am also overly fond of adverbs, cliches and quaint expressions 🙂 thanks for the excellent tips.

  13. I find the only way to get dialogue right is to write it down and then say it out loud. We can reveal a lot about a character from what they say and how they say it and this comes back to the old ‘show don’t tell’ line that you hear a lot about. Salmon Rushdie is a genius when it comes to dialogue – he gives his characters specific idiosyncrasies to the point where you can read the dialogue and know who is speaking without him telling you 😀

    • I’d love to get to that level in my writing where you can tell distinctly who is speaking just from the dialogue 😀 I try and do that now, and just hope it comes out right!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  14. I feel your pain. 😉 I sometimes struggle with something similar: i.e., when my character talks in a way that he’s running words together (i.e., We “gotta” get going, or “Dontcha” want that anymore?”), I sometimes make them talk that way for a reason, but I’m afraid when I do, that people will think I don’t know good grammar! LOL! Also, once I tried to use the onamonapia for a wolf whistle…How would you even spell that? If you Google it, you’ll get some really funny results!

    THIS is a great post today, and I’m sure if your dialog is as engaging as the rest of your writing that I’ve read on here, then you are doing a wonderful job! 😀

    • I think it’s good to make character speech unique, but as you say, got to make sure that people don’t think I’m doing it because I don’t know how to write well! 😀

      Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  15. I used to struggle with dialogue but practice helps. As does reading lots of dialogue and watching tv shows and studying how they do it. 🙂 Setting remains a tough one for me.

    • I am finding that watching tv shows and listening to audiobooks is helping me get a feel for dialogue more. And that’s not such bad research to do 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  16. Pingback: What did she just say? (link) | Joy V. Smith

  17. I love dialogue based books. I enjoy it best when things are explained via people’s speech, but can see the dangers in, and have read, over information where it becomes less of a convo and more of an info dump.

    “Avoid accents.” Oh god yes, unless you can do them really well. the stacia Kane Downside Ghosts is one of the exceptions – the speech there is a language all on its own. Took me a while to get into it but i love the sereis, its more different speech style than just accents though. I really hate it when i read “doona” “yanno” “olright” etc? I’ve no idea what should replace them though 🙂 its just certain words grate and thats two of them. I think maybe that diffence between speech style and accents is what i have troubel with. Speech style as in whole words and sentences – cowboy one recently when MC said things like “I might could do that” somehow worked really well giving me that image of backwoods, rural ranchhand, you couldn’t really imagine a top CEO saying it could you? v those awful doona style words.That must be the most overused way of portraying a scots acent. I’d rather just know the character is a scot and let my imagination do the rest. I’m trying now to think of other examples and can’t…how embarrassing when i’ve been banging on about it. I think speech/words work better than accents so a Brit waould say Arse and not Butt. (BTW as a brit first time i read an american book where detective grabbed her fanny pack i was in stitches – we’d call it a bum bag, a fanny is something entirely different!) We don’t call our children or lovers “baby'” either, that sounds so odd to me calling a grown child Baby, or a hot man that…wierd 🙂 Darling, sweetheat, honey but never Baby 🙂
    ah well i must stop looking here. i’ve a review to write 🙂 and i’ll be rambling all day if i don’t go….

    • Some great points! I think speech style and accents are a lot different, as you say. I understan the need for different styles of speaking, such as in historical books etc. Yet accents are just off putting, unless done reall, really well 😀

      Learnign between the differences between American and British can be interesting 😀 I am a Brit myself, and write that way, but luckily I have an American friend who proof-reads, just to check if anything sounds to odd or understandable!

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  18. Great post, and some valuable comments too. One trick I use is to read the dialogue I’ve just written out loud. I find it helps if I’m stuck. If I’m honest though (if I can be without sounding conceited), dialogue is one of my strengths. There are a dozen reasons my dialogue has improved over the years; reading, television (as suggested), practice, and ultimately, listening to the voices in my head. When I think of a scene, I often think in terms of what my characters would say – they literally play it out for me. If I’m having trouble I take a moment to ‘channel’ the characters I’m working with and, like real people, they begin to jabber away 🙂 that doesn’t mean I don’t have to edit continuously. Thanks for the post, and for the additional resources – dialogue might be a strength, but it still needs plenty of development.

    • Everyone had strengths, it’s good dialogue is yours, as it’s such an important part of writing! 😀 I definately think trying to visualise a conversation and characters in my head would help, being able to hear what they and how they say it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  19. I like writing dialogue a lot! But I’m Canadian, and my American editors always remind me to get my characters to the point already. Canadians are more into subtleties than our American neighbors. So I’ve had to learn how to loosen my characters up, rattle them a little, take away their polite back and forth and forget about my between-the-lines meaning. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta say it! LOL!

    • Very true, I like to be subtle in some lines, then realise that someone might have no idea what is really happening in the sub-text if it’s too subtle 😀

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  20. Thanks for the links — they confirm what I thought! Following on from a point they all raise: it’s good to be able to dispense with the ‘he said’ ‘she said’, but I can’t manage to make that work where there are more than two people in a dialogue.

    • I know what you mean. I always worry it will get confusing, especially when I have 2 men talking or a group. I guess you just have to go with what you feel is right, and hope your proof-reader/editor picks up on it if it gets too much 😀

      Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  21. It is hard to get dialogue to ring true sometimes. Especially if working on a piece (as I have been) where there is a local dialect which needs to come across. How much of the manner of speaking with dialect to include and should it be all through the conversations….a troubling question. Especially if your readers are not familiar with the language or the county (in UK we have so many dialects to deal with), it is a concern of mine. I like to keep things real and flowing and can do the actual conversations well enough, I feel, but using dialects does cause me concern. Anyone else have this concern? Thanks for liking my blog piece by the way, appreciated. 🙂

    • Dialect is awkward, but it can add much to a character and the story. I guess it’s all about practice, and trying to view it as the reader.

      Good luck with it! 😀 Haven’t attempted that yet!

      • Oh I am working on a series of stories set in a Berkshire village with several old-timers who still have the local accent and it is broad and their use of words really so funny at times….just trying not to over-do it of course. Not my usual crime/mystery story, just observational and with some humour. Yep, it can be very trying and taxing but I am getting there. 🙂

  22. Thanks for the like and comment on my blog today. Super post on dialogue. As an actor for years, I find dialogue easy to write and don’t forget to express what the characters see during a scene, use the senses to warm and flesh out the picture you’re painting. My best to you.

  23. Hello Mishka! Great post! I’m going to check out the sites you recommended. Writing dialogue is something I’d like to do really well. Thank you for sharing this information! 😀

    ~ Vashti

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