Achieving realistic dialogue in fictional and narrative writing can be a bit of a challenge. Great dialogue provides your writing with essential qualities, like plot progression and suspense, developing a character by designating voice, or setting the emotion of a chapter. Getting that intensity can be as simple as asking yourself a few questions:
- What do you want to express?
- What is the tone?
- Can the reader figure this out independently?
- How does your character express itself?
Like in any writing, it’s helpful to have a clear view of what you want to communicate before you even begin. The purpose of most fictional and narrative writing is to invite the reader to travel from Point A to Point Z, without missing any stops along the way. Write out your message first; it helps keep things clear on your end.
Molly admits to Anna that she has decided to move away.
Be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with your audience. Molly isn’t telling Anna she’s moving; she’s admitting it, like revealing a secret. And that reveal leads you to the tone of your dialogue.
Tone and Dialogue
Tone and emotion go hand in hand. If you want realistic tone, learn to define the emotions of your characters from the beginning of the dialogue all the way to its conclusion.
Molly is worried she’ll hurt her friend’s feelings but feels relieved after sharing the truth.
Anna is concerned, then hurt, but shows understanding later.
Now that you’ve identified how both characters are feeling, you can set your tone. You know that there are varying levels of worry, anger, hurt, empathy, and relief when it comes to human emotion. It’s more effective to choose words that accurately convey those emotions to include in your dialogue.
Character Development Through Dialogue
Molly stared dejectedly down at her cup. Anna, ever watchful, narrowed her eyes at her best friend.
“Molly, let me feel your forehead. You never say ‘no‘ to a slushie!”
“I’m just… I’m not thirsty,” Molly sighed.
Anna made a face. “Right! And I’m a lumberjack.”
“Do you really have to pry?”
“You know I do! I’m just so good at it. So? Spill—but not your Mango Tango; that cost me three bucks.”
These sentences are concise, and Anna’s are a little humorous with her sarcasm and friendly jabs. You may or may not know what she will say beforehand, but you begin to recognize and expect her playfulness.
How do your characters express themselves? Are they blunt or dodgy? Do they skirt around real emotion, hiding behind humor? Do they communicate in frustrations, or are they mellow and relaxed? When you understand your characters, the reader has a better chance of connecting with them and will recognize and empathize with their traits.
Remember: a connection between you, your writing, and your audience is the main goal. As you begin your next dialogue, try to utilize these pre-writing thought processes, and bring your idea to a verbal life.