In today’s guestblog, Young Adult Fantasy author Darrah Steffen shares tips on how to elevate your dialogue from good to awesome.
One thing that makes a story enjoyable is awesome dialogue. When your characters’ speech is on point and the scene really moves even if the characters are just standing around talking.
So how can you be sure that the dialogue is strong and not dragging down your story?
Here are the basics
1. Keep dialogue relevant
Choose your “words” wisely. What is the purpose behind the conversation? Much like each scene you include in your book, you should be analyzing the purpose behind the speech. This will also help you cut down on the filler pleasantries that us humans so often get trapped in (i.e. I’m fine thanks. How are you? And the kids?).
2. Keep dialogue tags to a minimum
Dialogue tags are a thing of debate in the writing world. There is a group that espouses “Said is Dead.” While there is nothing wrong with a good said or a good descriptive tag (i.e. mumbled, shouted, etc.), they can bog down your text and become distracting. Use the tag (i.e. he said) when it is uncertain who is speaking.
3. Give each character their own voice
This tip seems obvious. Not every person speaks the same. Does one character speak enthusiastically or sarcastically? Is one from a different region and have colloquialisms that the other characters get confused by (i.e. where I grew up BBQ meant any time food was made on a grill. Where I live now, BBQ means a backyard party. So, whenever I mean I’m making burgers for supper, people think I’m throwing a party).
4. Silence is a part of dialogue
Conversations ebb and flow. People do not have their ideas fully thought out 100% of the time. Remember to include silence. This could be in the form of a pause, hesitation, trailing off, or even stopping and repeating themselves.
5. Use action and gestures
Humans (or characters in general) are not just verbal creatures. There is a whole fascinating study of the body language and tonal range that we pick up when interacting with each other. Humans often are prone to multitasking. We like to complete tasks as we talk. Be sure to enliven your story with these secondary communication ques (i.e. facial expressions, body activities, etc.)
6. READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD!
I cannot stress this one enough. The ear doesn’t lie. Listen to your characters conversations. It will be the first test in seeing if anything sounds unnatural. How do you and your friends talk? Does it sound like your characters? If not, it is time to rework the scene.
Write even more awesome dialogue
I have an additional guideline.
Keep slang to a minimum
You have to do what is best for your story, so if you want to use modern slang phrases like “YEET” or “Respect the drip” by all means don’t let me stop you. However, consider how those phrases come across in a few years’ time. Writing a story today, we don’t call things “groovy” or “funky fresh.” It seems out of place in a modern story. However, people would still use the phrasing “cool” or “awesome.” Reading books trying to include the most relevant slang can also pull readers out of the story, especially if they do not understand what the slang means (i.e. older readers, international readers, etc.). Keeping slang to a minimum can help avoid these problems and keep your book readable for many years.
Often when writing stutters people repeat the first letter of the word several times to indicate that the stutter is present (i.e She had p-perfect sp-speech). If you have ever gotten tripped up talking, this is a better indication of a stutter. Your brain has gotten tongue tied. People often start speaking the same words over trying to overcome the snag (i.e. Have you ever had a dream…um that you had could do that you um… a dream that you wanted to do?).
Darrah Steffen is a Kansas native, now living in North Dakota with her husband, her dog Willow, and her cat Jasper. She is a Young Adult Fantasy author and loves to write worlds with weird and new creatures.
Darrah is trained as a geologist and paleontologist – which plays into her world-building. When she is not writing, she works as a museum curator. She is also an avid board gamer, painter, and amateur musician.
Read Darrah’s novel “Rise of the Dragon Queen“
The creatures of old have vanished. Dragonia was once a kingdom where magic roamed freely, but now magic wielders are hunted without mercy. A resistance has formed to fight against the king’s oppression. Legend holds that one called the Dragon Queen will rise to return Dragonia to its former glory.
When Crown Princess Sammaria is kidnapped, the land is thrown into chaos. Her sister Jennica is determined to bring her home safely. Jennica will have to rely on her friends – and the gods – to save her sister, but an ancient force has returned to take control of a weakened Dragonia and threaten her quest. Will Jennica be able to bring her sister home? Will the gods interfere? Will the Dragon Queen rise in time to save the world from destruction?