Ten Tips to Write Killer Dialogs

Dialogs are the personality of a character, and the characters are the lifeblood of a story. So, in order for your story to be successful, your characters should sound natural, shouldn’t they? What’s the steps to get them to speak naturally for you? Here are ten tips to write great dialogs.

Dialog Cartoon1. Go out and Listen to Your Friends

Stephen King once wrote about the dialogs of H P Lovecraft, one of the greatest 20th century horror writers. Lovecraft, though he is great in terms of writing and plotting, his dialogs are not up to the mark, according to Steve. “Loners such as Lovecraft,” to quote Steve, “write terrible dialogs, which are stilted as well as lifeless.”

For writing great dialogs you should have great ear for communication, just as for creating great characters you should have an understanding mind.

Go out more often and spend time with your friends. Be a good listener and carefully listen to the slang expressions, words, usages, etc.

2. Record and Listen

When you listen to your friends, it is best to keep a recording equipment ready. You can, if you are not quite in the mood of listening, record the conversation and listen to it later. Of course, your tone of speech when in a group will be quite different, and you can listen to that as well.

3. Speak Your Dialogs Loud and Record

When you are in the process of character development and writing, as I said in the previous post on character development, act out the part of each of your characters. At this time, it is best to record your own voice in the closed room. Listen to this conversation at a later time while putting down your words.

4. Listen to the Dialogs From Great Films

Some of the best films contain great dialogs. Listen to them. The directors that know the art of character development make great characters who speak naturally. Listening to these characters will greatly aid in your own dialog crafting.

Also, it is worthwhile to watch great actors in action. They emulate the script and put in natural tone to their delivery of dialogs. This can also help much.

5. Dialog as a Conversation

A recent article on Writer’s Digest points to the importance of writing dialog as a conversation. This was part of Writer Digest Fiction Writer’s Workshop. The main elements of this discussion are these: Write your dialog keeping in mind the diction of the character. Each character should be given a particular level of vocabulary and word choices, which they can deliver in a conversation.

The dialog delivery should look spontaneous at best. In order for this, recording a conversation helps greatly. According to Elizabeth Bowen, “A dialog should convey the sense of spontaneity without the repetitiveness of real talk.”

6. Meet with People Similar to Your Characters

One other advice I had given in the article on character development was to create characters from the people you actually know or came across some or other time in your life. The reason is that your understanding of the character makes your dialogs livelier, and you can understand the characters you actually know better than those you may create.

7. Get Feedback

I needn’t stress the importance of feedback in creative writing any more. You should write a part (a chapter or two) and let your friends or relatives give you an honest opinion after reading it. This helps you spot stilted areas and move the story more naturally forward.

8. Vulgarity and Bad Language

Assuming one or two of your characters are too uncultured, vulgar language is acceptable to an extent. Also, such words usually accompany malformed sentences. You should, however, limit vulgarity to a minimum. I don’t recommend to read Stephen King in this respect.

But this may cause your dialogs be a little stilted. So, try your best to avoid vulgarity and let whatever remains remain. I needn’t stress that your narration should be completely free of any vulgar language.

9. Dialog Punctuation

Some writers, new ones in particular, believe that the dialog punctuation is not as important as the narration. This is not true. The grammar in dialog may be off, but punctuation should be correct. Hence, a comma would not be appropriate in this dialog:

“Joe, I believe he was there, I actually saw him,” said Martin.

Instead, replace the comma with a semi colon or a period:

“Joe, I believe he was there; I actually saw him,” said Martin.

Grammar and structure of a sentence depends on the knowledge of the character, and so you can't expect a street ruffian to speak as well-formed sentences as a college professor.

10. Clichés in Dialogs

While I am totally against clichés in narration, I can’t quite speak much about clichés in dialogs. The word choice and the behavior of a character is not in your control. So, if he chooses to use many clichés, you can’t advise him against it, can you?

However, since you have some control over the dialogs, try your best to avoid clichés.


Those were the ten tips I recommend in order to craft good dialogs. Please add any of the missing tips through comments. I am very much on the lookout for them.

Image: From an Unknown Source

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

7 Opinions:

  1. Excellent post!

    I'd also suggest adding slang, or giving the character's idiolect a couple of nifty quirks. I've always liked people who tended to draw comparisons to the things that mattered to them; not only does it give you a few more colorful phrases to use, but it's a way to get across what's important (or at least ubiquitous) to the character.

  2. Ravyn, many thanks for the comment. Let more of such suggestions come in.


  3. Hi lenx,
    I've found lot of great posts which are very useful for me. Since then, I'd like to read your posts regularly. I've added a link at my blog to yours. As I am working hard to improve my English, I've started to follow your tips to improve my vocabulary. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the comment Enjoy the world, keep coming back for more.


  5. Great post! As a writer I must say you've made some vital points! well done.

  6. Hi Disturbed stranger, many thanks for the comment.


  7. Really great content about article writing here. I cold use some of the tips myself. If you'd like to publish an article about article writing on my blog, you're hereby officially invited to become a guest writer with all credits to you. Keep up the good work.


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