Thursday 14 December 2023

Dialogue – how it works


Writers are curious creatures.   A good job too – or they wouldn’t know what to write about. Your curiosity may have prompted you to listen to conversations in cafés, on the bus or at the bus stop or in the shopping queue. This sort of eaves-dropping may provide you with some rich snippets.  It may also clarify that a lot of time is wasted on small talk.

There is no place for small talk in a script or in a piece of fiction. Therefore, dialogue shouldn’t sound too natural.

On the other hand, it should sound like the person who is talking. Would they use those words? Do the words they speak reflect what is in their head?

Dialogue is an important part of narrative balance. But it must earn its keep. Therefore it must:

·         Push the plot forward

·         Represent the person who is speaking

·         Create an atmosphere

·         Preferably do more than one of the above at a time – and in some cases all of the above.


What about dialect, accents and swearing?

If you try to replicate an accent completely you may make your text virtually unreadable. Just a few words here and there may be enough to suggest the accent. Dialect words can give a clearer picture but make sure that you give them enough context so that the reader can understand what they mean – particularly the first time they meet them. And does your character swear? Well go ahead and put a few expletives in your text. However, you probably don’t need to make them swear as much as they would in real life.


A couple of things to try


BBC Writers’ Room

Go to BBC Writers’ Room: and download a script. Look at the balance between a slightly stylized speech and the words sounding as if they belong to the character.


Test out your own dialogue 

Is it true to each character? Take all tags out of your dialogue.  Print you work out in a large font. Cut up the speeches and hand them to a writing friend. Can they work out the order of the speech? Can they work out what each of the characters is like?  


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