Fiction Writing Masterclass
Lesson 6: How to Write Effective Dialogue
This week we’ll focus on building characters through dialogue to ensure your characters are clearly identifiable and don’t all sound the same. We’ll also look at the differences between showing and telling and when you should use each one.
This is the sixth lesson in an 8-part series on writing fiction. It has been designed to take you through the process of writing a short story from start to finish. For more information, including the content covered in each lesson, check out my introductory post here.
As a fiction writer, dialogue is one of the most valuable tools at your disposal. It is essential for building character, moving the narrative along, and creating tension. If your characters are just having conversations because you are looking for something for them to do, then those conversations will likely fall flat. Therefore, when writing dialogue, you need to make sure it fulfills these two essential requirements:
- A strong reason why the characters are engaging with each other. Is a mother wanting an explanation as to why her son skipped school? Is a husband questioning why his wife smells like another man? Is a police officer interrogating a man’s alibi? Of course, not all conversations have to be heated or dramatic, a lot of dialogue will include everyday exchanges, for example, ‘How was your day?’. But remember, if the character's answer to this question is just ‘good, how was yours,’ your readers will lose interest pretty quickly. Therefore, your dialogue must also fulfill the second requirement.
- Something must have changed by the end of the conversation. What information have we found out about the characters that help us better understand who they are? What information has piqued our curiosity, making us want to read on? Has a conflict begun or been heightened? Has the relationship of the speakers changed? This could be an emotional change like a mother being disappointed with her son, or an actual change in relationship status like a break-up. If the dialogue has not achieved at least one of these things then it is redundant.