Writing a Conversation: Main Tips to Follow
If you ask language theoreticians what the main difference between spoken and written language is, they will probably say that there is none. However, it is obvious that both spoken and written language has a completely different influence on the audience so it can become a powerful instrument in rendering thoughts and ideas. When a conversation is held, the audience can obtain information directly and to interpret it without anyone’s corrections and word choice. However, when a written piece is given, the reader is not present, and understanding of the topic greatly depends on the choice of words.
This means that if you want to insert a conversation into your story, you need to be familiar with all of the rules and demands in order to make such dialogues clear and understandable. Writing skills are not enough: you need to understand the physical and social background of people. In addition, it is important to know what a conversation is and how to render posture and gestures. A vivid dialogue shows how people agree or disagree, talk and express their thoughts. This means that you need to learn dialogue writing and formatting if you want to render a conversation and to make it an important part of your story. Knowing all of these peculiarities will surely help you to grab the attention of the reader.
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What It Takes to Write a Great Conversation
Before getting started and learning all of the tips on writing dialogue, let us determine what it is in order to use it effectively.
So what is a conversation or a dialogue? It is an intentional discussion between people. Usually, it includes sharing opinions, ideas, fears, reactions and so on.
Try not to Use Unnecessary Details
If you want to render interaction of people, it is important to give contextual clues. It is very important because your readers are willing to listen or to watch the setting. When you are working on a conversation, you need to avoid fillers. For example, if you are describing a cell phone conversation, there is no need to add phrases like ‘I want to speak to Mrs. Smith’. Just go directly to the dialogue, like this:
[Her voice was low and insecure, almost in panic.]
You may find it difficult to avoid fillers in situations when there is a need to introduce a new character. However, it is still a great chance to picture the character in vivid colors. For example:
‘Amanda was talking to Mrs. Johnson and a stranger. When I approached, the stranger gave me a cheerful smile’.
‘She was an attractive young woman with bright blue eyes. Her hair was curly, and the dress she wore was pure charm and innocence. It was a real pleasure standing in the rays of her light.’
Try not to omit the description of appearances, because they give a necessary background to characters and future plot of the story.
Limit Irrelevant Dialogue Tags
Dialogue tags give readers information about who said what in the story. However, they are not always necessary. Instead of writing ‘John said’ you can provide information about gestures and posture at the end of the line. This will give your conversation additional motion, and the text will be more live and vivid. Compare the following examples:
‘What are you reading?’ He asked.
If based on the scene context it is obvious who is speaking, there is no need to include the dialogue tag. Try using gestures instead:
‘What are you reading?’… He moved closer and looked over my shoulder.
As you see, such gestures give your story additional details, and the reader can picture the situation more clearly without unnecessary repetitions. Most of the writers always use this simple but effective tool.
Say no to Fancy Tags
If for some reason you don’t want to use gestures or consider them out of place, you should still avoid fancy dialogue tags. Complex word combinations and phrases may distract the audience, so if you still need to mention the speaker, it is better to stick to a plain ‘he said’.
Sequence of Dialogue Tags
In case the above methods are not appealing, you can still try other options. For example, to break the monotonous flow you can switch places of dialogue tags. Luckily, there are no rules that say you should start every line with ‘Matt said’. Try placing these tags in the middle of the conversation or at the end of your dialogue, and you will see how much brighter the story will be.
Don’t Forget to Add Conflict or Disagreement
If you want to make conversation an important part of your story, it is necessary to include conflict to it. In reality, when we are mad at someone, we can remain silent for weeks. However, in stories, it is necessary to render the tension through your dialogues. It is a way of transmitting emotions to your readers.
Do you like reading stories, where characters get along so good that they don’t have a single disagreement? The only way to make your story exciting and appealing is to give the readers a chance to see a conflict, a collapse of different opinions and tension.
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Mention Goals, Hopes, and Fears of Your Characters
It is not necessary to make your story characters happy, positive and honest all the time. Try adding shades to their personality, and you will see how the story will benefit. The flow of the dialogue may require asking complex questions or avoiding answers. That is when you need to depict the weak sides of your characters, just as the police does during an interrogation.
When you are working on dialogues, you need to understand your characters good enough: what motivates them, what are they afraid of, how will they benefit from the conversation and so on. How can their goals and desires influence the conversation and the whole course of the story?
By building a connection between the conversation and goals of participants, you can create a deeper dialogue. This advice is crucial if you are working on a detective story or a mystery because sharing information becomes the main source of finding new clues and tips.
Use Subtext and Gestures
It is not a secret that subtext is a very important part of the story and is the key to understanding readers’ ideas and thoughts. It can answer the ‘why’ question, explaining what is hidden behind the words and phrases. Adding subtext is a great way to make the context stronger and to explain elements that can’t be explained otherwise. For example,
‘I was invited as a lecturer to Michigan University.’ She exclaimed.
‘Isn’t it where John, your former boyfriend is working?’
As we get from the context, he is not happy with the proposal and is quite suspicious whether she was invited by her ex-boyfriend. Obvious tension made the conversation more interesting, and a simple discussion of a job offer turned into jealousy and suspicions.
Draw a Picture of the Tone and Atmosphere
We all love stories with an atmosphere, so adding colors and context is crucial for creating good and catchy dialogue. A context is a place, where the conversation unfolds. In addition, the context provides background information that leads to a certain dialogue.
If you devote enough time adding context to the conversation, you will be able to avoid dialogue tags or adverbs. For example,
‘I saw her leaving with a stranger’. She cried.
If you want to make the story more intriguing and catchy, you can add context to the story, describing what and where it is happening.
Anna was missing for almost two days now. No one has seen her on campus, and she didn’t come back to her home town either. Hundreds of people were surveyed, and the police were losing hope of finding her alive and healthy. Around noon they received a phone call from Anna’s roommate.
‘I saw her leaving with a stranger’. She sobbed.
Such details help readers to see the story behind and to explain the despair of police, family, and friends of a missing woman.
Formatting a Dialogue
It doesn’t matter what type of story you are writing: following rules of creating a dialogue is a must. To distinguish dialogues and conversations, you need to know common rules. First, all of the conversations should begin and end with quotation marks.
Below are some of the additional rules you need to keep in mind when formatting a story.
Breaking Paragraphs to Distinguish Speakers
Every dialogue involves at least two people, so the audience should have a clear understanding of who is speaking and when the next phrase begins. To reach this goal, you need to follow some visual rules:
- Every paragraph and every new speech should be indented;
- Even if it is an unfinished phrase, it should be on a separate line.
Using Quotation Marks
If you place a part of the text into quotation marks, it means that someone is speaking. It is also possible to use double quotation marks. For example,
“Have you seen our English teacher today?”
- If several sentences make a single part of the dialogue, you can place them in a single quotation. For example, Mary exclaimed, “I was so worried about you! Why didn’t you tell me that you were leaving?”
- In case your character quotes someone’s statement, you can place the main dialogue in double quotation marks and use single ones around the words that are quoted;
- To mark speech, it is also possible to use angle brackets. Such an approach is often used by European and Asian writers.
Punctuating Dialogue Tags
Dialogue tags are a part of a conversation and are used to explain the reader who is speaking. That is why you need to know how to punctuate them properly:
- Separate the tag and the dialogue using a comma;
- If the tag is placed at the beginning of the sentence, you need to place a comma before the dialogue. If the tag is placed at the end, you need to put the full stop before the quotation mark is closed. For example, Anna said, “I would love to go with you.” Or “I would love to go with you.” Anna said;
- If you place the dialogue tag in the middle of the sentence, you need to put commas on both sides of the tag. For example, “Oh my God”, Mary exclaimed,” Where did you get it?”.
Using Question and Exclamation Marks
You need to place both of them inside quotation marks. For example, “How did the meeting go?” or “I am so tired”. You shouldn’t separate your dialogue tag from the conversation if there is already an exclamation mark.
Using Dashes and Ellipses
When you want to show that the ending of the phrase is abrupt, you need to use dashes. Ellipses show that the thought is lost. Keep in mind that dashes are not hyphens. For example, where is b − “Anna began?
If you want to show that the dialogue was interrupted, you can also use dashes. For example,
“All I wanted was –
“Don’t even start that!”
In case you want to show that your character lacks words, you can use ellipses: “What I mean is….”
Breaking a Dialogue into Shorter Lines
If your character needs to make a long speech, it is better to break it into smaller paragraphs. This will make the text simpler to understand. To achieve such a result, you need to start the dialogue with opening quotation marks and then switch to the next paragraph. Place closing quotation marks at the end of the final paragraph.
Including dialogues to your story can make it engaging and vivid even though creating an interesting conversation is a real challenge. If you want to succeed, follow the tips above, master formatting and you will surely create an outstanding dialogue to spice up the story!