Writing Natural Dialogue
Tips For Making Dialogue Smoother and More Realistic
Here are tips for making dialogue flow and sound more natural when a writer has been told the dialogue is stilted.
Sometimes a writer will get feedback that sounds something like: “Your dialogue is stilted” or “Your dialogue doesn’t sound natural” or “Your dialogue doesn’t sound realistic.”
How to make dialogue sound more natural?
Beware the Info Dump
“Info dumps” are lines of dialogue that are there solely to inform the reader.
“As you know, Jane, our sister Lydia ran off with your ex-lover George and robbed a bank with him last month.”
Jane already knows this, and her sister wouldn’t repeat the information to her—instead, she’d speak knowing what Jane already knows.
“Doesn’t it pain you?”
“Lydia and George? No, don’t worry about me. My relationship with him was over long ago. But the public shame of Lydia’s behavior hurts more than I expected it to.”
Break Up Long Paragraphs
Dialogue tends to be more back and forth—one character says something, the other responds, sometimes interrupting in order to respond. If you have a long section of dialogue, break it up.
Here’s an example from Single Sashimi:
“Jenn is totally freaking out.” Trish’s eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings. “Aunty Yuki had a doctor’s appointment today—her cancer’s gone, as far as they can tell. But in an excess of high spirits, she took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along. So now she’s taken over Jenn’s kitchen.”
“Jenn is totally freaking out.” Trish’s eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.
“What brought all this on?” Venus asked.
“Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor’s appointment today—”
“Is she doing okay?”
“Clean bill of health. Cancer’s gone, as far as they can tell.”
“So that’s why she’s taken over Jenn’s domain?”
Trish rubbed her back and winced. “She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along.”
Have People Read Your Dialogue To You
Don’t read your own dialogue—simply listen to people read it out loud.
You’ll be able to hear the rhythm and cadence of the sentences, how easy it is to pronounce the words and syllables, how long each character’s dialogue is.
If you’ve been having problems with stilted or unnatural dialogue, listening to it as an “outside observer” may open your eyes as to why or how it’s not quite realistic enough.
The best way to improve dialogue writing skills is to write more dialogue.
If you’re not writing enough dialogue in your novel, pick a writing prompt and write a scene of pure dialogue. Writer’s Digest has fantastic prompts every week.
The more you practice writing it, the more you’ll come to understand cadence, rhythm, timing, and the traits of natural-sounding dialogue.