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Dialogue In-Depth 3 - is it Realistic?

Make sure to read the first two posts in this series - Dialogue Basics and Dialogue Tags - first.

Now, we're so close to mastering dialogue! All we need to know is how to polish it and make it so good that readers won't notice it isn't real.

Dialogue must always feel real and have purpose. How do we make that happen?


1. Give each character a unique voice

Characters of different backgrounds, genders, accents, personalities, etc. will all talk in their own way. They'll also have their own tone and opinions, to the point that a reader should often be able to tell who's talking without even being told.

Talk to real-life people who are similar to your character, and study how they speak. What words do they use? How do they craft their sentences? Do they put emphasis on certain words? How can you carry this over to fiction?

Also consider the other characters in the scene. People often use different language around their parents compared to their friends. Look into code-switching and how it might apply to your story.

2. Does the dialogue add to the story?

This is the first check you should make when writing or editing your dialogue, because if your dialogue isn't needed, you should take it out ASAP!

Is the quote you're using going to move the story along, tell the reader something about the character, or be otherwise engaging? If not, it has to go. Even if you love it, if the reader doesn't care, they'll be more likely to lose interest in the book.

For example, the reader doesn't want to hear small talk between your characters. They want to listen to the dialogue to first understand the characters, then get into the plot!

So, long conversations with a lot of 'how are you' and 'nice weather', aren't valuable. Unless, of course, they tell us something important!

3. Read it aloud

I've said this before and I'll keep saying it! Reading your work aloud - especially your dialogue - allows you to hear it in a new way. If it doesn't sound natural, it has to go!

As I just mentioned with cutting small talk, cutting the unrealistic talk is important too. Sometimes you make a character say something because it helps the story, but it might just not be realistic.

A character isn't going to just stand there and give all the right words and answers. Reading their dialogue aloud will help you realise if it's something someone would actually say.

Read other books in your genre, with similar characters to your own and a similar target audience, and study the dialogue. Does it sound realistic to you? Does it work when read aloud? What has the author done to make it engaging?

You should use this knowledge to improve your own writing!


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