On the face of it, dialogue is pretty easy. It’s just the way characters talk to each other in a novel or movie. Pop the text in between quote marks using the correct punctuation and you’re done! Actually, it’s much more complex than that. Learning how to write dialogue between two characters is absolutely crucial to the success of your book or screenplay.
The author has the task of creating a conversation in fiction that seems to be realistic but isn’t at all like people communicate in real life. It gives the impression of effortlessly flowing and getting straight to the point, whereas in real life chats we ‘um’ and ‘ah’, repeat ourselves and often talk about nothing.
In fact, a huge part of our conversations just reflect the conventions of our culture and time. The paradox is that it doesn’t look real on the written page. In normal life, dialogue performs the function of communication. In a novel, dialogue should drive the story forward, help describe characters and provide emotion.
How To Write Dialogue Between Two Characters & Keep It Real!
Hello learning birds – this is Eric Buffington and this is our creative writing lesson on dialogue. We’re going to talk about what is dialogue, keeping a good balance of dialogue and action, and then making realistic dialogue.
So dialogue. When I talk about dialogue I’m going to be talking about when characters are speaking or communicating with each other. When a new person speaks you need to begin a new paragraph and you need to indicate what they’re saying using quotation marks.
So I’m going to show you a bit of dialogue from JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and you’ll be able to see this in action. Here’s the example of dialogue:
I was coming over the mountains with a friend or two.
“I can only see one and a little one at that,” said Bjorn.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I did not like to bother you with a lot of us until I found out if you were busy. I will give a call if I may?”
“Go on. Call away.”
So you can see, with each time a person speaking, you get a new paragraph and that’s helpful. It helps us to keep it differentiated who’s speaking and then what they’re saying is inside of those quotation marks.
When you are writing dialogue you want to keep a good balance. If you just have dialogue for a long time, without anything else, the reader is left very confused, not knowing what’s happening or the tone of what they’re saying or anything about the dialogue at all.
On the other end of things, if you have too much action between the dialogue pieces, the reader will have a hard time remembering what’s being said. Let me show you what I’m talking abou. Here’s an example with too much dialogue:
“Do you like fish?”
“Yes I do!”
“That’s wonderful. What’s your favorite kind?”
“I like goldfish.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I like you, you’re funny.”
“I think I’m starting to like you too. It tingles when you hold my hand.”
Like, that this is totally confusing and terribly written it. Yeah, it’s just horrible. The reader wouldn’t have any idea what’s going on if you only have dialogue. It’s made even worse if you have more than two characters speaking back and forth. It’s harder to follow.
You need to have those action and tone and what they’re doing how, they’re saying it all, in between there to make it make sense. Here’s our other bad example of too much action:
“Do you like fish?,” John asked as he looked out over the big blue ocean. It had been years since he was last on the shores of this beautiful island and he felt a mix of joy at returning, and sadness that he had been away for so long. He lowered his head and took a deep breath, then turned back to pulling on the rope that moved their boat slowly to the shore. “Yes,” she replied.
So obviously by the time you get her answer you’ve almost forgotten what the question is because there’s so much happening. This is an extreme example but you can see the principle here. You want to have a balance of not too much action and not too much dialogue.
Another note about dialogue is that you need to keep it real. Read the dialogue out loud. Perhaps have a friend read one part as you read another part. See if it makes sense. Is that the way that a real conversation would go? Would it logically go from one thing to the next?
And also note that different people speak differently. Some people have accents. Some people have different idioms that they use or words that they use differently. Try and incorporate that into your writing and it will help to enhance your writing style. Let’s take a look at this and see if it’s realistic or not:
“Hello, Jill,” Jack said with his head hanging down.
“Hi,” she responded.
“I’ve had a really bad day. My mom ran out of water and I need someone to go up that hill there to fetch it with me.”
Is this realistic? Not really. Why is this not realistic? We’ve got that “hi,” she responded. She’s not caring about how he’s reacting and what she said would never lead a friend to ask telling about a bad day. So let’s change her dialogue a little bit, so that it’s a little more realistic.
“Hello, Jill,” Jack said, with his head down.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, voice filled with concern.
“I’ve had a really bad day. My mom ran out of water and I need someone to go up that hill there to fetch it with me.”
Now we have dialogue that flows a little bit more. It makes more sense and it goes from one thing logically to the next. One final example here, where I tried to show a balance of action and dialogue:
“Kaz Kinsley, I know you’re up there.” Kaz casually sat at the side of the roof dangling his legs over the edge.
“Kaz, what are you doing?” Fenn asked in an angry yet hushed tone. “My heart is about to pound out of my chest.”
With a smirk Kaz responded, “That’s what all the girls in the village say about me.”
“You wish,” Fenn retorted, ” The only time you make hearts beat is when they’re running to get away from you.”
So this is dialogue that is obviously between a young man who’s sitting up on a roof of a building and a young girl that he actually threw something down at her and scared her. So you can see that there’s a little bit of action mixed with the dialogue that keeps it realistic, keeps it flowing and it’s a conversation that you can actually see happening.
So remember when you’re working with dialogue to keep it balanced, keep it real, and have a wonderful day.
How To Write Dialogue Between Two Characters – Another Perspective
“You see that? I just stood there.” That was dialogue and that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. So some of you might have some difficulty with making your dialogue sound perfect to you and it might sound choppy or boring or just lack-luster.
So today I’m gonna give you some tips on how to make your dialogue awesome. First of all let’s just talk about the point of dialogue. Why is dialogue even necessary in a story? I think the most important thing that it does is to show the relationship between two of your characters rather than just tell it.
But dialogue also has another very important role – to move the story forward. But wait, that’s what narrative’s for, right? Yes, but if we’re studying for a test, we don’t just read the book once and then expect to get a good grade. We watch videos online, or we read articles.
We make flashcards of all of these pieces work, symbiotically that looks really weird, to make sure you get a good grade on your test. Together dialogue and narrative can make your story shine. Think of it this way; your characters and your plot, you’re setting, are all paths and your dialogue in your narrative is a vehicle.
Your dialogue helps to add some tension, reveals the personality of some of your characters and can reveal some pertinent information. If your dialogue just isn’t doing any of these, then you should totally watch the rest of my video because we’ve got some tips for you, like 9 in total.
Alright, so first up we’re gonna talk about those imperfect characters. You know, everyone’s got one in their family. Ah just kidding. That’s not what I’m talking about. You should have a ton of imperfect characters in your writing because guess what, we’re all imperfect.
I, for instance, can’t seem to fold laundry. It’s just not in my repertoire of zombie apocalypse knowledge because, let’s be honest, that’s all I seem to know these days. And you know of course, writing real talk. Onto the tip.
Tip number one – relationships matter. Do you talk to your significant other the same way that you talk to your grandmother? I would hope not. Most of us tend to change up our language, depending on who we’re talking to. You might get more respect to a professor, speak to them a little more formally than you would your best friend.
This is a part of getting to know your characters really well. How would they interact with one another can be a fun thing. Would one take the lead in a conversation, while the others follow? Or would one take the lead and then butt heads with another one.
Some personality types just don’t play well together and you need to welcome the idea of relationships influencing the way that your characters speak to one another because, let’s face it, we all do it. Ergo, your characters should do it.
Tip number two – give your characters a unique voice. We all have one, give them one too. If you’re a young adult reader like myself you might have read the beautiful creatures series. In it there’s a character named Blanc that is unlike any other character.
This is best seen through his dialogue. He uses no words that any other character were to use and he delivers them in a unique way. So without any dialogue tags or action tags you always know that it’s linked speaking. That’s what you want. You should totally try to do that.
We all have favorite words that we like to use or our own form of expletives when we stub our toe. Make a list of these things for each one of your characters. When you get stuck in their dialogue, you can just refer back to it for inspiration.
Tip number three – people aren’t perfect and neither is their dialogue. Have you ever watched a movie and you realize that the actors are delivering their lines a little too quickly? If you’ve been in drama you know what I’m talking about it. Sounds like they’re just waiting for the other actor to finish their lines so that they can dive into theirs.
Everyone needs time to think of a response and without it a conversation just doesn’t feel organic anymore. Writing dialogue is the same. Give your character some time to think every now and then. They’re arguing with another character, have them stammer and then slam something in frustration.
No one knows their lines ahead of time, so make sure your characters don’t either. Make their dialogue perfectly imperfect because that’s what it means to be human. And unless you have an alien race, you want your characters to sound human right? All right, on to some of the more technical stuff.
Tip number four – summaries can be a good thing sometimes. It’s easier to sum up the boring parts of conversation or to characters. Saying ‘hello’ to each other – don’t put it in dialogue, unless there’s something else going on there. You would have to force this type of dialogue to be interesting though.
So sometimes it’s a little better left to narrative, if you still really want to make it interesting. Here’s some examples. A meeting between two teenagers who both really like each other and they’re both nervous. One of them starts stuttering and then the other one thinks it’s cute.
Or a greeting between two people who can’t speak the same language. There’s some pretty obvious difficulties there. That would be good to point out in dialogue. How do you know when to put your dialogue into summary, though it’s nothing exciting really happening but you don’t want to cut that piece of dialogue. Is there back and forth between two characters that would give the reader whiplash? Try putting dialogue into summaries and seeing if it flows better.
Tip number five – tag, you’re it. I like to use deep point-of-view most of the time during my writing and one thing to avoid while doing so is dialog tags. I try my hardest to avoid dialog tags at all costs instead using action to show which character is speaking.
You do this so that the readers never pulled out of the story and you kind of become like the invisible author but sometimes this can have the opposite effect. Using an action might become what pulls the reader out of the story, if the wording is weird or just sticks out in a bad way.
In this case please use your tags responsibly. Don’t use redundant tags. Saying someone grunted after an “Oh” isn’t necessary. Don’t use tags that don’t make sense. People don’t sigh words, or gasp words. A physical non-speech related action should never be your dialogue tag.
Don’t be afraid to use ‘said’. Yes it’s simple but guess what? If you really need a dialogue tag ‘said’ blends in pretty well to your narrative. We’ve read so many books throughout our lives that ‘said’ has become more like ‘it’. We may read it 200 times in a chapter but we don’t realize it.
Tip number six – name drops. I am so guilty of this. When you’re talking to your best friend how often do you use their name? I can say that I never do. I say ‘girl’ before I say her name: “Girl, guess what happened”, so it would make sense if your characters that name drop with one another right?
Yes but I still find myself doing it all the time. Why? I think because sometimes I want to make it clear who’s speaking. In that case I go back and make sure my action tags are very clear. If I’m trying to add some drama to the scene by name dropping, I make sure I haven’t name drop, the same name in a while. If you do it a lot it gets a little less dramatic. Like okay, let’s be honest – a lot less. The next topic is all about editing.
Tip number seven – remove the drab, cut it, all of it. Oh but not really. If you’re in the editing phase of your novel it’s time to spruce up your dialogue a little bit.
If you started a conversation between two people on the phone and you included all of the ‘hey how you doin’ and the ‘oh great, how’s the kids?’ stuff. then your readers probably gonna drop the book and run at stops. Boring, yes it may be how people talk in real life but you don’t include boring action into your novel do you?
I’m sorry but the same rule applies to boring dialogue. We’re just better off without it. Another drabaass thing to cut is information two characters wouldn’t really say to one another. These are things that are usually just for the benefit of the reader and are really not beneficial to anybody.
If two characters know that eating myrrh berries makes you go to sleep for ages, don’t have them explain that to one another. They know. Instead, show someone’s flipping some to another character as a practical joke. the myrrh berries knock that character out and then you’re spared that awkward moment when point directly at your reader and explain things to them. Note – if no character in your novel has heard of myrrh berries but one has them, obviously makes sense to them to explain them.
Tip number eight – have someone read your story out loud. You might have heard that you should read your work out loud but for dialogue it’s particularly helpful if you actually have something else read it out loud.
You already know how the dialogue is supposed to sound, so sometimes you’ll just make it sound that way even if it doesn’t. Grab whoever you can grab and bribe them in whatever ways you need to so that you can get them to do this. Tell them to be goofy and to have fun with acting out the words.
Even if they read the dialogue without any embellishments, you’ll be able to see what words they place importance on. If they get stuck on a certain sentence and have to start over, mark that sentence down. Sometimes that means your wording sounds awkward.
Also try to listen for the balance between narrative and dialogue, any sentences that don’t sound realistic and choppy dialogue. This last one sometimes means that your characters unique voices aren’t coming through or the dialogue simply isn’t needed.
Tip number nine is a lot of tips and they’re all about grammar. Yay, grammar rules, at least I hope you think it does. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty here. I promise it’ll only take a minute.
When a new character starts to speak start a new line for them. We don’t want the reader to get confused. We stitch two lines of dialogue together. There’s no mad scientist Frankenstein dialogues allowed here. Punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks.
I remembered that my teachers always told me that the punctuation would fall off into this never-ending black hole of doom and I just never wanted that for my punctuation. Be kind and keep them from falling for eternity.
The UK uses single quotes for their dialogue, the US only uses single quotes. When we’re quoting something inside of something that’s already a quote, it’s quotation inception in your dialogue with a comma. If you’re using a dialogue tag, or with a full stop, like a period or an ellipsis for an exclamation mark. If you’re going to use an action tag, if someone’s cutting someone else off, you need to make sure you use an em-dash where they’re getting cut off.
And then again, if they resume their thought. For an example of that, make sure you check out my blog post on this topic down below. Alright, so that’s all I have for you guys today. I hope you found this video oh so helpful.
If you have any tips or tricks of your own for dialogue, make sure you put them in the comment section below so other people can see them. Be sure to subscribe to my channel because I post new writing videos every Wednesday. If you have any questions or suggestions be sure to tweet me at Vivian Reese.