Rules for Writing Good Dialogue

I just came across an article that gives 10 rules to writing good dialogue. They’re the pretty standard rules of speech. Be to the point. Have a point. Make your point. Ok, it’s a nice list, but when I read, and I try to do this from time to time, or preview drafts that I’m lucky enough to get a hold of, I have 1 rule.


Can you say it out loud and not sound like an idiot?


You’d be surprised. Take into account who the speaker is, where they live, and when. I tend to read and write present day fiction. I think most writers have at least one character who speaks exactly like them. I know I do. Pop culture, although relevant in 2013, doesn’t help a book’s staying power. Consider the demographic of your reader, focus in on their slang, then pull back. I do use current pop culture slang, but I try to minimize it and try not to let the dialogue get lost in the ‘how’ of the speech.


A few things to take into account:


~ Conversational cursing – I am a huge fan of this practice. I grew up in a military household, harsh language was more common than the Filipino dialect Tagalog my mother spoke. I could proudly curse in two languages by the time I was in the third grade, and people these days do talk with colorful expletives, however…can you say it out loud and not sound like an idiot? Anyone with reasonable intelligence should know better than to use bad language to express themselves. And then there are times when a well placed ‘f-bomb’ is called for – I’m the first person to say that and stand behind it. If you have more than 5 F words on one page, go back and reread the dialogue out loud…then take them all out. Ok, maybe leave 1.


Men curse. A lot. Conversationally. My husband once worked with Combat Controllers in the USAF. They curse constantly. He came home and cursed constantly. Know your character, and if you’re going to go Rated R on that shit, at least use it wisely.


~ Monologues. This was a point from the article linked above. No one talks in long, boring soliloquies. If you’re trying to explain something, it is far easier (and makes more sense) to write it out instead of having your character take up 2 full pages to explain something. Embrace the omnipresent voice. You’re not writing King Lear.


I’m a fan of the quick, broken up dialogue. People never shut up when you’re speaking, so consider it when you’re writing. People interrupt – it’s human nature, so odds are you’re not living up to your character’s personality if they just stand there and spew at the mouth or wait quietly for someone to finish their 30 line dialogue.


I think you can apply my thought process to most any situation.


Marriage – can you say ‘I am married to (insert name here)’ without sounding like an idiot? Come on. Really?


Sex – can you say ‘I had sex with that person and it was good’ without sounding like an idiot? Or without crying?


Your job – can you say ‘I love my job’ without wanting to stab someone in the eye…and sound like an idiot? Legit question, yo.


Dialogue. It’s everything. It carries your story, establishes the scene, and makes a book worthy of being finished. If you can’t say your dialogue out loud without it sounding awkward, wrong, or without sounding like an idiot…then revisit it in future edits. It means everything.



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