Recent Posts

Please reload

How to Write Interesting Dialogues ("Said" is overrated.)

February 20, 2018

Ever got tired of saying "he said", "she said", "they all said"? If not, then I'm telling you to stop it. It gets boring to the reader when the style is repetitive. (I can already imagine PLT thinking "I feel so attacked rn" on behalf of writers out there.)

 

So, I'm here to tell you what I know and maybe you can build upon it yourself! I've done lots of research in the making of Foreshadow, and let me tell you, there were words I didn't even know e x i s t e d. The magic of writing a book, I guess.

 

 

Before we begin, here are a few synonyms I found that will most likely interest you; (note that they are all in the past tense)

 

insisted .    stated .    asked .    chatted .    voiced .    declared .    commented .    noted .    expressed .    professed .    claimed .    exclaimed .    uttered .    pronounced .    remarked .    announced .    mentioned .    responded .    suggested .    murmured .    muttered .    mumbled .    breathed .    sighed .    hissed .    whispered .    mouthed .    intoned .    purred .    gasped .    hinted .    

 

Of course, it all depends on the sentence structure and viewpoint of the story, not to mention the particular situation the characters are in.

 

Now, for writing dialogue, it gets pretty blunt if the entire conversation is just;

 

"Of course not," she said.

"Why is that so?" he said.

"Because I am pretty sure we'll get expelled," she said.

"I find that highly unlikely," he said.

 

"Said he/she" or "he/she said"; same thing. There's no progress. No storytelling. It's a boring conversation nobody wants to read. Imagine reading an entire book like that with occasional descriptive paragraph breaks. Not so interesting, is it? For starters, there's no action. The conversation itself looks ... boring, even for the characters. Take a look at this version instead;

 

"Of course not," she said.

"Why is that so?" he asked.

"Because I am pretty sure we'll get expelled," she replied.

"I find that highly unlikely," he responded.

 

There's progress, in changing the wording, but it's still not really there yet. Here are a few things you could add (and bear in mind) when writing a dialogue:

 

- Try using synonyms.


Sure, "replied", "stated" and "asked" are not the word "said", but it's still (forgive me for using this word) basic. Incorporating new words can add your own touch to your work. Let's take the text we used above;

 

"Of course not," she insisted.

"Why is that so?" he asked.

"Because I am pretty sure we'll get expelled," she retorted.

"I find that highly unlikely," he remarked.

 

It sounds a bit off, yes, but it's just an example. There are so many synonyms to any given word; try exploring them just a bit more. A small change can make a difference (try downloading offline dictionaries if - like me - you like to write on the go.)

 

- Add a little action.

 

It's pretty self-explanatory, but hear (or read) me out . Have the characters show what they're talking about; how they feel towards a certain subject. Have them get up, sit down, throw a fit; it all influences the dialogue. The purpose of writing is to make the writer feel something, right? Have a look at this:

 

"Of course not," she insisted, stubbornly shaking her head.

"Why is that so?" he asked, leaning on the wall. "Are you just afraid?"

"Because I am pretty sure we'll get expelled!" she retorted irritably. Her face was turning red as her fists clenched involuntarily. "I don't want to risk that!"

"I find that highly unlikely," he remarked, a sly smirk playing on his lips, meaning to annoy her.

 

See? An entire paragraph written just by a simple conversation. Each character gets his/her own paragraph when they talk. In that paragraph, add something relevant to the character's speech; thoughts, actions, etc. Simple yet effective.

 

- No need to add text too much.

 

Are two characters conversing? Then you don't have to write that down every time, unless you want to add any sort of action in between.

 

"Of course not," she insisted, stubbornly shaking her head.

"Why is that so?" he asked, leaning on the wall. "Are you just afraid?"

"Because I am pretty sure we'll get expelled! I don't want to risk that!"

"I find that highly unlikely."

"Oh, Sir Afraid-Of-Nobody, I happen to care about my grades!"

"I do too."

"Yeah, that's obvious."

 

You can tell how the dialogue is moving; her, him, her, and so on. This is especially useful if they're debating or having a long talk. It can be tiring for you and the reader to keep saying "said, said, said".

 

- Sometimes, "said" is okay.

 

Sometimes, you can be a little too eager  to avoid using "said" (or a basic synonym) and you end up in a blocked road; you used all the "big word" synonyms you can think of once or twice, and you end up with something a little like this;

 

 

It doesn't sound ... right, does it? Sometimes, a little "said" is okay. Don't rely on it on every dialogue, and don't go overboard with avoiding it either.

 

Now, after going through all that, take a look at what kind of paragraph we'll end up with ...

 

"Of course not," she insisted, stubbornly shaking her head.

"Why is that so?" he asked, leaning on the wall. "Are you just afraid?"

"Because I am pretty sure we'll get expelled! I don't want to risk that!"

"I find that highly unlikely."

She sighed heavily and sat down, massaging her head. This was getting too much for her. "Oh, Sir Afraid-Of-Nobody, I happen to care about my grades!"

"I do too."

"Yeah, that's obvious."

"It's true!"
She rolled her eyes as he stood, a mischievous grin on his face.

"I hate to have ended up with you," she grumbled standing up.

"It isn't my fault we're twins." He fell silent for a moment. "So you're in?"

"Shut up,' she hissed, before leaving the room and slamming the door behind her, leaving him with a slight feeling of achievement.

 

Ta-da! What could have been three or four paragraphs is now a full page, conveying emotion and imagery. Compare this one to the four lines I wrote in the beginning of this post. You can feel how annoyed she is. Her actions, her words; it all conveys the meaning. You can also see how laid back and semi-careless he is, just by how he talks and acts.


It was a random paragraph I thought up, but it gave you the idea of the characters I had in mind. That's what dialogue is all about; to progress the story. Be careful of irrelevant talk; anything that does not progress the story or offer character development is unnecessary and is pointless, so try avoiding too much of that. 

That's it for dialogue - for now. Don't hesitate to ask me anything writing-related; I'll be more than happy to help. And remember; keep writing, loves.

 

~Leena

 

 

Please reload

©2018 by Leena Althekair.