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How to Write Dialogue: Rules, Examples, and 8 Tips for Engaging Dialogue
by Fija Callaghan
You’ll often hear fiction writers talking about “character-driven stories”—stories where the strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations of the central cast of characters stay with us long after the book is closed. But what drives character, and how do we create characters that leave long-lasting impressions?
The answer lies in dialogue : the device used by our characters to communicate with each other. Powerful dialogue can elevate a story and subtly reveal important information, but poorly written dialogue can send your work straight to the slush bin. Let’s look at what dialogue is in writing, how to properly format dialogue, and how to make your characters’ dialogue the best it can be.
What is dialogue in a story?
Dialogue is the verbal exchange between two or more characters. In most fiction, the exchange is in the form of a spoken conversation. However, conversations in a story can also be things like letters, text messages, telepathy, or even sign language. Any moment where two characters speak or connect with each other through their choice of words, they’re engaging in dialogue.
Why does dialogue matter in a story?
We use dialogue in a story to reveal new information about the plot, characters, and story world. Great dialogue is essential to character development and helps move the plot forward in a story.
Writing good dialogue is a great way to sneak exposition into your story without stating it overtly to the reader; you can also use tools like dialect and diction in your dialogue to communicate more detail about your characters.
Through a character’s dialogue, we can learn about their motivations, relationships, and understanding of the world around them.
A character won’t always say what they mean (more on dialogue subtext below), but everything they say will serve some larger purpose in the story. If your dialogue is well-written, the reader will absorb this information without even realizing it. If your dialogue is clunky, however, it will stand out and pull your reader away from your story.
Rules for writing dialogue
Before we get into how to make your dialogue realistic and engaging, let’s make sure you’ve got the basics down: how to properly format dialogue in a story. We’ll look at how to punctuate dialogue, how to write dialogue correctly when using a question mark or exclamation point, and some helpful dialogue writing examples.
Here are the need-to-know rules for formatting dialogue in writing.
Enclose lines of dialogue in double quotation marks
This is the most essential rule in basic dialogue punctuation. When you write dialogue in North American English, a spoken line will have a set of double quotation marks around it. Here’s a simple dialogue example:
“Were you at the party last night?”
Any punctuation such as periods, question marks, and exclamation marks will also go inside the quotation marks. The quotation marks give a visual clue to the reader that this line is spoken out loud.
In European or British English, however, you’ll often see single quotation marks being used instead of double quotation marks. All the other rules stay the same.
Enclose nested dialogue in single quotation marks
Nested dialogue is when one line of dialogue happens inside another line of dialogue—when someone is verbally quoting someone else. In North American English, you’d use single quotation marks to identify where the new dialogue line starts and stops, like this:
“And then, do you know what he said to me? Right to my face, he said, ‘I stayed home all night.’ As if I didn’t even see him.”
The double and single quotation marks give the reader clues as to who’s speaking. In European or British English, the quotation marks would be reversed; you’d use single quotation marks on the outside, and double quotation marks on the inside.
Every speaker gets a new paragraph
Every time you switch to a new speaker, you end the line where it is and start a new line. Here are some dialogue examples to show you how it looks:
“Were you at the party last night?” “No, I stayed home all night.”
The same is true if the new “speaker” is only in focus because of their action. You can think of the paragraphs like camera angles, each one focusing on a different person:
“Were you at the party last night?” “No, I stayed home all night.” She raised a single, threatening eyebrow. “Yeah, I wasn’t feeling that well, so I just stayed in and watched Netflix instead.”
If you kept the action on the same line as the dialogue, it would get confusing and make it look like she was the one saying it. Giving each character a new paragraph keeps the speakers clear and distinct.
Use em-dashes when dialogue gets cut short
If your character begins to speak but is interrupted, you’ll break off their line of dialogue with an em-dash, like this:
“Yeah, I wasn’t feeling that well, so I just stayed in and—” “Is that really what happened?”
Be careful with this one, because many word processors will treat your em-dash like the beginning of a new sentence and attach your closing quotation marks backwards:
“Yeah, I wasn’t feeling that well, so I just stayed in and—“
You may need to keep an eye out and adjust as you go along.
In this dialogue example, the new speaker doesn’t lead with an em-dash; they just start speaking like normal. The only time you’ll ever open a line of dialogue with an em-dash is if the speaker who’s been cut off continues with what they were saying:
“Yeah, I wasn’t feeling that well, so I just stayed in and—” “Is that really what happened?” “—watched Netflix instead. Yes, that’s what happened.”
This shows the reader that there’s actually only one line of dialogue, but it’s been cut in the middle by another speaker.
Each line of dialogue is indented
Every time you give your speaker a new paragraph, it’s indented from the left-hand side. Many word processors will do this automatically. The only exception is if your dialogue is opening your story or a new section of your story, such as a chapter; these will always start at the far left margin of the page, whether they’re dialogue or narration.
Long speeches don’t use use closing quotation marks until the end
Most writers favor shorter lines of dialogue in their writing, but sometimes you might need to give your character a longer one—for instance, if the character speaking is giving a speech or telling a story. In these cases, you might choose to break up their speech into shorter paragraphs the way you would if you were writing regular narrative.
However, here the punctuation gets a bit weird. You’ll begin the character’s dialogue with a double quotation mark, like normal. But you won’t use a double quotation mark at the end of the paragraph, because they haven’t finished speaking yet. But! You’ll use another opening quotation mark at the beginning of the subsequent paragraph. This means that you may use several opening double quotation marks for your character’s speech, but only ever one closing quotation mark.
If your character is telling a story that involves people talking, remember to use single quotation marks for your dialogue-within-dialogue as we looked at above.
Sometimes these dialogue formatting rules are easier to catch later on, during the editing process. When you’re writing, worry less about using the exact dialogue punctuation and more about writing great dialogue that supports your character development and moves the story forward.
How to use dialogue tags
Dialogue tags help identify the speaker. They’re especially important if you have a group of people all talking together, and it can get pretty confusing for the reader trying to keep everybody straight. If you’re using a speech tag after your line of dialogue—he said, she said, and so forth—you’ll end your sentence with a comma, like this:
“No, I stayed home all night,” he said.
But if you’re using an action to identify the person speaking instead, you’ll punctuate the sentence like normal and start a new sentence to describe the action taking place:
“No, I stayed home all night.” He looked down at his feet.
The dialogue tags and action tags always follow in the same paragraph. When you move your story lens to a new person, you’ll switch to a new paragraph. Each line where a new person speaks propels the story forward.
When to use capitals in dialogue tags
You may have noticed in the two examples above that one dialogue tag begins with a lowercase letter, and one—which is technically called an action tag—begins with a capital letter. Confusing? The rules are simple once you get a little practice.
When you use a dialogue tag like “he said,” “she said,” “he whispered,” or “she shouted,” you’re using these as modifiers to your sentence—dressing it up with a little clarity. They’re an extension of the sentence the person was speaking. That’s why you separate them with a comma and keep going.
With an action tag , you’re ending one sentence and beginning a whole new one. Each sentence represents two distinct moments in the story. That’s why you end the first sentence with a period, and then open the next one with a capital letter.
If you’re not sure, try reading them out loud:
“No, I stayed home all night,” he said. “No, I stayed home all night.” He looked down at his feet.
Since you can’t hear quotation marks out loud, the way you say them will show you if they’re one sentence or two. In the first example, you can hear how the sentence keeps going after the dialogue ends. In the second example, you can hear how one sentence comes to a full stop and another one begins.
But what if your dialogue tag comes before the dialogue, instead of after? In this case, the dialogue is always capitalized because the speaker is beginning a new sentence:
He said, “No, I stayed home all night.” He looked down at his feet. “No, I stayed home all night.”
You’ll still use a comma after the dialogue tag and a period after the action tag, just like if you’d separate them if you were putting your tag at the end.
If you’re not sure, ask yourself if your leading tag sounds like a full sentence or a partial sentence. If it sounds like a partial sentence, it gets a comma. If it reads like a full sentence that stands on its own, it gets a period.
External vs. internal dialogue
All of the dialogue we’ve looked at so far is external dialogue, which is directed from one character to another. The other type of dialogue is internal dialogue, or inner dialogue, where a character is talking to themselves. You’ll use this when you want to show what a character is thinking, but other characters can’t hear.
Usually, internal dialogue will be written in italics to distinguish it from the rest of the text. That shows the reader that the line is happening inside the character’s head. For example:
It’s not a big deal, she thought. It’s just a new school. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.
Here you can see that the dialogue tag is used in the same way, just as if it was a line of external dialogue. However, “she thought” is written in regular text because it’s not a part of what the character is thinking. This helps keep everything clear for the reader.
In your story, you can play with using contrasting internal and external dialogue to show that what your characters say isn’t always what they mean. You may also choose to use this internal dialogue formatting if you’re writing dialogue between two or more characters that isn’t spoken out loud—for instance, telepathically or by sign language.
8 tips for creating engaging dialogue in a story
Now that you’ve mastered the mechanics of how to write dialogue, let’s look at how to create convincing, compelling dialogue that will elevate your story.
1. Listen to people talk
To write convincingly about people, you’ll first need to know something about them. The work of great writers is often characterized by their insight into humanity; you read them and think, “Yes, this is exactly what people are like.” You can begin accumulating your own insight by listening to what real people say to each other.
You can go to any public place where people are likely to gather and converse: cafés, art galleries, political events, dimly lit pubs, bookshops. Record snippets of conversation, pay attention to how people’s voices change as they move from speaking to one person to another, try to imagine what it is they’re not saying, the words simmering just under the surface.
By listening to stories unfold in real time, you’ll have a better idea of how to recreate them in your writing—and inspiration for some new stories, too.
2. Give each spoken line a purpose
Here is something that actors have drilled into their heads from their first day at drama school, and writers would do well to remember it too: every single line of dialogue has a hidden motivation. Every time your character speaks, they’re trying to achieve something, either overtly or covertly.
Small talk is rare in fiction, because it doesn’t advance the plot or reveal something about your characters. The exception is when your characters are using their small talk for a specific purpose, such as to put off talking about the real issue, to disarm someone, or to pretend they belong somewhere they don’t.
When writing your own dialogue, ask yourself what the line accomplishes in the story. If you come up blank, it probably doesn’t need to be there. Words need to earn their place on the page.
3. Embrace subtext
In real life, we rarely say exactly what we really mean. The reality of polite society is that we’ve evolved to speak in circles around our true intentions, afraid of the consequences of speaking our mind. Your characters will be no different. If your protagonist is trying to tell their best friend they’re in love with them, for instance, they’ll come up with about fifty different ways to say it before speaking the deceptively simple words themselves.
To write better dialogue, try exploring different ways of moving your characters around what’s really being said, layering text and subtext side by side. The reader will love picking apart the conversation between your characters and deducing what’s really happening underneath (incidentally, this is also the place where fan fiction is born).
4. Keep names to a minimum
You may notice that on television, in moments of great upheaval, the characters will communicate exactly how important the moment is by saying each other’s names in dramatic bursts of anger/passion/fear/heartbreak/shock. In real life, we say each other’s names very rarely; saying someone’s name out loud can actually be a surprisingly intimate experience.
Names may be a necessary evil right at the beginning of your story so your reader knows who’s who, but after you’ve established your cast, try to include names in dialogue only when it makes sense to do so. If you’re not sure, try reading the dialogue out loud to see if it sounds like something someone would actually say (we’ll talk more about reading out loud below).
5. Prune unnecessary words
This is one area where reality and story differ. In life, dialogue is full of filler words: “Um, uh, well, so yeah, then I was like, erm, huh?” You may have noticed this when you practiced listening to dialogue, above. We won’t say there’s never a place for these words in fiction, but like all words in storytelling, they need to earn their place. You might find filler words an effective tool for showing something about one particular character, or about one particular moment, but you’ll generally find that you use them a lot less than people really do in everyday speech.
When you’re reviewing your characters’ dialogue, remember the hint above: each line needs a purpose. It’s the same for each word. Keep only the ones that contribute something to the story.
6. Vary word choices and rhythms
The greatest dialogue examples in writing use distinctive character voices; each character sounds a little bit different, because they have their own personality.
This can be tricky to master, but an easy way to get started is to look at the word choice and rhythm for each character. You might have one character use longer words and run-on sentences, while another uses smaller words and simple, single-clause sentences. You might have one lean on colloquial regional dialect, where another sounds more cosmopolitan. Play around with different ways to develop characters and give each one their own voice.
7. Be consistent for each character
When you do find a solid, believable voice for your character, make sure that it stays consistent throughout your entire story. It’s easy to set a story aside for a while, then return to it and forget some of the work you did in distinguishing your characters’ dialogue. You might find it helpful to write down some notes about the way each character speaks so you can refer back to it later.
The exception, of course, is if your character’s speech pattern goes through a transformation over the course of the story, like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady . In this case, you can use your character’s distinctive voice to communicate a major change. But as with all things in writing, make sure that it comes from intention and not from forgetfulness.
8. Read your dialogue out loud
After you’ve written a scene between two or more characters, you can take the dialogue for a trial run by speaking it out loud. Ask yourself, does the dialogue sound realistic? Are there any moments where it drags or feels forced? Does the voice feel natural for each character? You’ll often find there are snags you miss in your writing that only become apparent when read out loud. Bonus: this is great practice for when you become rich and famous and do live readings at bookshops.
3 mistakes to avoid when writing dialogue
Easy, right? But there are also a few pitfalls that new writers often encounter when writing dialogue that can drag down an otherwise compelling story. Here are the things to watch out for when crafting your story dialogue.
1. Too much exposition
Exposition is one of the more demanding literary devices , and one of the ones most likely to trip up new writers. Dialogue is a good place to sneak in some information about your story—but subtlety is essential. This is one place where the adage “show, don’t tell” really shines.
Consider these dialogue examples:
“How is she, Doctor?” “Well Mr. Stuffington, I don’t have to remind you that your daughter, the sole heiress to your estate and currently engaged to the Baron of Flippingshire, has suffered a grievous injury when she fell from her horse last Sunday. We don’t need to discuss right now whether or not you think her jealous maid was responsible; what matters is your daughter’s well being. As to your question, I’m afraid it’s very unlikely that she’ll ever walk again.” Can’t you just feel your arm aching to throw the poor book across the room? There’s a lot of important information here, but you can find subtler ways to work it into your story. Let’s try again: “How is she, Doctor?” “Well Mr. Stuffington, your daughter took quite a blow from that horse—worse than we initially thought. I’m afraid it’s very unlikely that she’ll ever walk again.” “And what am I supposed to say to Flippingshire?” “The Baron? I suppose you’ll have to tell him that his future wife has lost the use of her legs.”
And so forth. To create good dialogue exposition, look for little ways to work in the details of your story, instead of piling it up in one great clump.
2. Too much small talk
We looked at how each line of dialogue needs a specific purpose above. Very often small talk in a story happens because the writer doesn’t know what the scene is about. Small talk doesn’t move the scene along unless it’s there for a reason. If you’re not sure, ask yourself what each character wants in this moment.
For example, imagine you’re in an office, and two characters are talking by the water cooler. How was your weekend, what did you think of the game, how’s your wife doing, are those new shoes, etc etc. Can’t you just feel the reader’s will to live slipping away?
But what about this: your characters are talking by the water cooler—Character A and Character B. Character A knows that his friend is inside Character B’s office looking for evidence of corporate espionage, so A is doing everything he can to stop B from going in. How was your weekend, what did you think of the game, how’s your wife doing, are those new shoes, literally anything just to keep him talking. Suddenly these benign little phrases have a purpose.
If you find your characters slipping into small talk, double check that it’s there for a purpose, and not just a crutch to keep you from moving forward in your scene. When writing dialogue, Make each line of dialogue earn its place.
3. Too much repetition
Variation is the spice of a good story. To keep your readers engaged, avoid using the same sentence structure and the same dialogue tags over and over again. Using “he said” and “she said” is effective and clear cut, but only for about three beats. After that, try switching to an action tag instead or letting the line of dialogue stand on its own.
You can also experiment with varying the length of your sentences or groupings of sentences. By changing up the rhythm of your story regularly, you’ll keep it feeling fresh and present for the reader.
Effective dialogue examples from literature
With all of these tips and tricks in mind, let’s look at how other writers have used good dialogue to elevate their stories.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine , by Gail Honeyman
“I’m going to pick up a carryout and head round to my mate Andy’s. A few of us usually hang out there on Saturday nights, fire up the playstation, have a smoke and a few beers.” “Sounds utterly delightful,” I said. “What about you?” he asked. I was going home, of course, to watch a television program or read a book. What else would I be doing? “I shall return to my flat,” I said. “I think there might be a documentary about komodo dragons on BBC4 later this evening.”
In this dialogue example, the author gives her characters two very distinctive voices. From just a few words we can begin to see these people very clearly in our minds—and with this distinction comes the tension that drives the story. Dialogue is an excellent place to show your character dynamics using speech patterns and word choices.
Pride and Prejudice , by Jane Austen
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?” Mr. Bennet replied that he had not. “But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.” Mr. Bennet made no answer. “Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently. “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.” This was invitation enough. “Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
In this famous dialogue example, the author illustrates the relationship between these two characters clearly and succinctly. Their dialogue shows Mr. B’s stalwart, tolerant love for his wife and Mrs. B’s excitement and propensity for gossip. The author shows us everything we need to know about these people in just a few lines.
Dinner in Donnybrook , by Maeve Binchy
“Look, I thought you ought to know, we’ve had a very odd letter from Carmel.” “A what… from Carmel?” “A letter. Yes, I know it’s sort of out of character, I thought maybe something might be wrong and you’d need to know…” “Yes, well, what did she say, what’s the matter with her?” “Nothing, that’s the problem, she’s inviting us to dinner.” “To dinner?” “Yes, it’s sort of funny, isn’t it? As if she wasn’t well or something. I thought you should know in case she got in touch with you.” “Did you really drag me all the way down here, third years are at the top of the house you know, I thought the house had burned down! God, wait till I come home to you. I’ll murder you.” “The dinner’s in a month’s time, and she says she’s invited Ruth O’Donnell.” “Oh, Jesus Christ.”
This dialogue example is a telephone conversation between two people. The lack of dialogue tags or action tags allows the words to come to the forefront and immerses us in their back-and-forth conversation. Even though there are no tags to indicate the speakers, the language is simple and straightforward enough that the reader always knows who’s talking. Through this conversation the author slowly builds the tension from the benign to the catastrophic within a domestic setting.
Compelling dialogue is the key to a good story
A writer has a lot riding on their characters’ dialogue, and learning how to write dialogue is a critical skill for any writer. When done well, it can leaves a lasting impact on the reader. But when dialogue is clumsy and awkward, it can drag your story down and make your reader feel like they’re wasting their time.
But if you keep these tips in mind, listen to dialogue in your everyday life, and practice , you’ll be sure to create realistic dialogue that brings your story to life.
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How to Write a Dialogue in English
As an ESL teacher, I’ve had the pleasure of helping many students like you improve their English skills. One of the most effective ways to do that is by writing and practicing dialogues in English. That’s why today, I’m going to guide you through the process of writing a dialogue in English.
Writing dialogues can be fun, and it’s a great way to practice speaking and listening skills as well. In this article, I will share with you some tips and tricks that will make your dialogues more engaging, communicative, and easy to understand. Let’s get started!
To write an engaging and communicative dialogue in English, use appropriate greetings and introductions to start the dialogue, keep the conversation simple and polite, use questions and answers, and include emotion and body language.
You may try Fifty Ways to Practice Writing: Tips for ESL/EFL Students to practice and improve writing with pen and paper and typing. By applying these methods, you will write more, write faster, and write more correct and more interesting papers and letters.
Now, let’s move to the detailed discussion about how to write a dialogue in English. Throughout the post, I’ll give you tips and examples to understand the concept of dialogue.
Table of Contents
Choose a topic, create the characters, use greetings and introductions, keep the conversation simple and to the point, use a casual but polite tone, practice using questions and answers, use appropriate transitions, include some emotion and body language, practice using different verb tenses, revise and practice, a sample dialogue between two friends, in conclusion.
Choosing a topic is the first step in writing a dialogue. It is important to choose a topic that interests you or something that you can relate to. For example, if you are a student, you could write a dialogue about studying for exams. If you enjoy sports, you could write a dialogue about playing a game or watching a match. The topic should be something that you enjoy talking about and that can hold your interest.
Creating characters is the next step in writing a dialogue. You should give your characters names and a little background so that you can imagine them as real people. For example, if you are writing a dialogue about studying for exams, you could create two characters named Mike and Sarah. Mike is a college student who struggles with exams, and Sarah is a friend who helps him study.
When starting a dialogue, it is important to begin with a proper greeting . Depending on the time of day and the relationship between the characters, you can use greetings like “Hello,” “Good morning,” or “Hi.” After that, the characters can introduce themselves if they don’t know each other. For example:
Mike: Hi, Sarah. How are you doing?
Sarah: Hi, Mike. I’m doing well, thanks. How about you?
Mike: I’m good, thanks for asking.
For good communication, it is important to keep your dialogues simple and easy to understand. Use short sentences and common, familiar words. This will make it easier for you to practice your speaking skills and for others to follow the conversation. Also, try to stay focused on the main topic of the dialogue. For example:
Sarah: So, what do you want to study for your next exam?
Mike: I’m thinking of studying history. It’s one of my weak subjects.
In most everyday conversations, people use a casual tone. This means using informal language and speaking in a relaxed manner. However, it’s still important to be polite and show respect to the other person. This can be done by using polite expressions like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” For example:
Mike: Excuse me, Sarah. Can you help me with this problem?
Sarah: Sure, Mike. What do you need help with?
One of the best ways to make your dialogues more engaging is by using questions and answers. This will help you practice your listening and speaking skills and make the conversation more interactive. When writing your dialogue, try to include a mix of open-ended questions (e.g., “What do you think about…?”) and closed-ended questions (e.g., “Do you like…?”). For example:
Sarah: What do you think is the best way to prepare for an exam?
Mike: I think the best way is to review the material and take practice exams.
To keep the conversation flowing smoothly, use appropriate transitions between sentences and ideas. These can include words like “so,” “and,” “but,” and “then.” Using transitions will make your dialogue sound more natural and help your readers follow the conversation more easily. For example:
Mike: I studied for eight hours yesterday, but I still feel like I need more practice.
Sarah: That’s a lot of studying. Why don’t you take a break and go for a walk? It might help clear your mind.
To make your dialogue more engaging and realistic, include some emotion and body language. This can be done by adding descriptions of the characters’ facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice. For example:
Mike: I don’t think I’m going to pass this exam. I’m really nervous.
Sarah: Don’t worry, Mike. You’ve studied hard, and you’ll do great. Just take some deep breaths and believe in yourself.
When writing dialogues, it’s important to practice using different verb tenses . This will help you become more comfortable with using English in various situations. For example:
Sarah: What did you do yesterday?
Mike: Yesterday, I studied for eight hours and then went to the gym.
Sarah: That sounds like a productive day.
After writing your dialogue, it’s important to revise it and make sure it flows well and makes sense. Check for spelling and grammar errors, and make any necessary changes to improve the dialogue. Once you’re satisfied with it, practice reading it aloud to yourself or with a friend to improve your speaking and listening skills. For example:
Mike: Thanks for your help, Sarah. I feel a lot better now.
Sarah: No problem, Mike. That’s what friends are for. Good luck on your exam.
Amit: Hey, Priya! How are you doing?
Priya: Hi, Amit! I’m doing great. Thanks for asking. How about you?
Amit: I’m doing pretty well, thanks. Hey, do you have any plans for this weekend?
Priya: Not really. Why, do you have something in mind?
Amit: Yeah, I was thinking we could go to the park and have a picnic. The weather is supposed to be nice.
Priya: That sounds like a great idea! What time were you thinking?
Amit: How about we meet at the park at noon? That should give us enough time to prepare the food and find a good spot.
Priya: Okay, that works for me. What should we bring for the picnic?
Amit: How about we each bring something different? I’ll bring some sandwiches and chips, and you can bring some fruit or a salad.
Priya: Sounds good to me. Should we also bring some drinks?
Amit: Yes, I’ll bring some soda, and you can bring some water or juice.
Priya: Alright, I’ll bring some bottled water. Hey, do you want to invite some other friends to join us?
Amit: Sure, that’s a good idea. Let’s invite Ravi and Deepika. I’ll text them to see if they’re free this weekend.
Priya: Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it.
Amit: Me too. It’s going to be a fun day in the park.
Priya: Right. See you then, Amit. Take care.
Writing dialogues is a fun and effective way to improve your English skills. By following these tips and tricks, you can create engaging and communicative dialogues that will help you become more comfortable using English in everyday situations.
Remember to keep it simple, use appropriate transitions, and include some emotion and body language. With practice, you’ll become a master of writing dialogues in English!
How to ask for discount in english on quotation: a guide, how to write an e-mail in english for a discount, how to write meeting minutes in english, is maintaining unity in writing important, niaj a a khan.
Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 7 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."
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How to Write Dialogue
Last Updated: January 30, 2020
This article was co-authored by Christopher Taylor, PhD . Christopher Taylor is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Austin Community College in Texas. He received his PhD in English Literature and Medieval Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. This article has been viewed 82,036 times.
Dialogue is an essential part of a story and writers strive to make sure the conversations written in stories, books, plays and movies sound as natural and authentic as they would in real life. Writers often use dialogue to provide information to readers in a way that is interesting and emotionally engaging. Write dialogue by understanding your characters, reading it out loud to ensure it sounds genuine, and keeping it simple and authentic overall.
Researching Your Dialogue
- Disregard parts of the conversation that will not translate well when written down. For example, every "hello" and "goodbye" does not need to be written. Some of your dialogue might start with a "Did you do 'this'?" or "Why did you do 'this'?"
- Keep a notebook to record small pieces of real-world dialogue that stand out to you.
- Look for writers whose dialogue rings true to your ear, regardless of what other readers or critics may say. If you need a starting point, you might check out the work of Douglas Adams, Toni Morrison, and Judy Blume, who are known for their realistic, layered, and vivid dialogue.
- Checking out and practicing writing dialogue for screenplays and radio plays is really useful in developing dialogue, since those are both very dependent on dialogue. Douglas Adams, from the above writers, got his start writing radio plays, which is one reason for his fantastic dialogue.
- You don't need to write every character detail into your work, but you should know them yourself.
- Things like age, gender, education level, region where they're from, tone of voice, will all make a difference in how a character talks. For example, a poor American teen girl is going to talk very differently from a rich, old, British guy.
- Give each character a distinct voice. Not all of your characters are going to use the same vocabulary, tone or method of speech. Make sure each character sounds different.
- Stilted dialogue is dialogue that only works on the obvious levels and in language no one would use. For example: "Hello, Jane, you look sad today," said Charles. "Yes, Charles, I am sad today. Would you like to know why?" "Yes, Jane, I would like to know why you are sad today." "I am sad because my dog is sick and it reminds me of the death of my father two years ago under mysterious circumstances."
- How the dialogue above should have gone: "Jane, is something wrong?" asked Charles. Jane shrugged, keeping her gaze fixed on something out the window. "My dog's sick. They don't know what's wrong." "That's terrible, but, Jane...well, he is old. Maybe that's all it is." Her hands clenched on the windowsill. "It's just, it's just, you'd think the doctors would know." "You mean the vet?" Charles frowned. "Yeah. Whatever."
- The reason the second one works better, is that it doesn't come right out and say that Jane is thinking of her deceased father, but it does lean towards that interpretation, especially with her using the word "doctors" instead of "vet." It also flows better.
- An example where stilted dialogue works is Lord of the Rings, where the characters' conversations can get very grand and eloquent (and unrealistic). This is a good choice for a book that's written in the style of old epics, like Beowulf or The Mabinogion .
Writing Out Dialogue
- No matter what you choose, make sure you don't use the same descriptor over and over. This gets repetitive and boring for the reader.
- Don't do small talk about the weather or how each character is doing, even if that's something that comes up a lot in real conversations. Now, a way in which small talk would be well used is to build up tension. For example, a character really needs certain information from another character, but the second character insists upon the ritual of small talk, your reader and your character will be biting their nails in waiting to get to the good stuff.
- All your dialogue should have a purpose. As you're writing dialogue, ask yourself, "what does this add to the story?" "What am I trying to tell the reader about the character or the story?" If you don't have an answer to those questions, scrap the dialogue.
- For example of what not to do: Jane turned to Charles and said, "Oh Charles, remember when my father died a mysterious death and my family was turned out of our home by my evil aunt Agatha?" "I do remember that, Jane. You were only 12-years-old and you had to drop out of school to help out your family."
- A better version of the above might go something like: Jane turned to Charles, her lips set in a grim line. "I heard from aunt Agatha today." Charles was taken aback. "But she was the one that kicked your family out of your house. What did she want?" "Who knows, but she started hinting things about my dad's death." "Things?" Charles raised an eyebrow. "She seemed to think his death wasn't natural."
- There are lots of ways to say things. So, if you have a character that you want to say something like "I need you," try having them say as much, without actually saying it . For example: Charles started for his car. Jane placed a hand on his arm; she was chewing at her lip. "Charles, I...do you really have to go so soon?" she asked, withdrawing her hand. "We still haven't figured out what we're going to do."
- Don't have your characters say everything they're feeling or thinking. That will give away too much and won't allow for any suspense, or nuance.
- Engage your characters in arguments or have them say surprising things, as long as these things are in character for them. Dialogue should be interesting. If everyone is agreeing or asking and answering basic questions, the dialogue will get boring.
- Intersperse your dialogue with action. When people are having conversations they fiddle with things, laugh, wash the dishes, trip over things, and so on. Adding these things to the dialogue will make it come alive.
- For example: "You don't think a healthy specimen like your daddy would've just sickened and died," Aunt Agatha said with a cackle. Jane clung to the shreds of her temper, replying "Sometimes people get sick." "And sometimes they get a little help from their friends." Aunt Agatha sounded so smug Jane wanted to reach through the phone and wring her neck. "if someone killed him, Aunt Agatha, do you know who?" "Oh, I've got a few notions, but I'll let you decide on your own."
- Have a trusted friend or family member go over your dialogue. A fresh pair of eyes can tell you whether your dialogue is natural sounding, or needs work.
- There should be a comma after the end of the dialogue and the closing quotation mark. For example: "Hello. I'm Jane," said Jane.
- If you add action to the middle of a piece of dialogue, you'll either capitalize the second half of the dialogue, or not. For example: "I can't believe he killed my father," Jane said, her eyes filling with tears. "It's just not like him." or "I can't believe he killed my father," Jane said, her eyes filling with tears, "since it's just not like him."
- If there's no said, only an action, then there's a period in place of a comma in the closing quotation mark. For example: "Goodbye, Aunt Agatha." Jane slammed the phone down.
- For example, instead of "I cannot believe that after all these many years, it was Uncle Red that put the poison in my father's evening cocktail and murdered him," said Jane, you might say "I can't believe Uncle Red poisoned my father!"
- Establish where characters come from in other ways. For example, use regional terms such as "soda" versus "pop" to establish geography. Make sure if you're writing a character from a specific geographic area (like England or America) that you use the appropriate slang and terminology (pants in England, underwear in America, for example).
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- Access resources that will help you write great dialogue. Take a writing class, or check out books and websites that are specifically written to help writers improve their storytelling skills with dialogue. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
- Look around your community for writer's groups and classes, including screenplay writing. Working with other people and getting feedback can help you improve a lot! Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0
- Don't focus too much on dialogue when you're writing your first draft. It won't be very good and that's okay, because you'll come back on later drafts and clean it up. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
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- ↑ http://litreactor.com/columns/top-10-authors-who-write-great-dialogue
- ↑ http://www.creative-writing-now.com/how-to-write-dialogue.html
- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/stilted-dialogue
- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/uncategorized/writing-dialogue-the-5-best-ways-to-make-your-characters-conversations-seem-real
About This Article
To write dialogue, start by listening to the way people talk to each other so you can use those conversations to make your dialogue sound authentic. Additionally, read good dialogue in books and movie scripts for examples of realistic speech. When you’re ready to start writing, try to craft dialogue that tells the reader something critical about the character or their story. For example, have your character say something about their motive for acting a certain way, rather than including dialogue about the weather. For more tips on how to make your dialogue sound more natural, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Last updated on Jul 24, 2023
15 Examples of Great Dialogue (And Why They Work So Well)
Great dialogue is hard to pin down, but you know it when you hear or see it. In the earlier parts of this guide, we showed you some well-known tips and rules for writing dialogue. In this section, we'll show you those rules in action with 15 examples of great dialogue, breaking down exactly why they work so well.
1. Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered
In the opening of Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, we meet Willa Knox, a middle-aged and newly unemployed writer who has just inherited a ramshackle house.
“The simplest thing would be to tear it down,” the man said. “The house is a shambles.” She took this news as a blood-rush to the ears: a roar of peasant ancestors with rocks in their fists, facing the evictor. But this man was a contractor. Willa had called him here and she could send him away. She waited out her panic while he stood looking at her shambles, appearing to nurse some satisfaction from his diagnosis. She picked out words. “It’s not a living thing. You can’t just pronounce it dead. Anything that goes wrong with a structure can be replaced with another structure. Am I right?” “Correct. What I am saying is that the structure needing to be replaced is all of it. I’m sorry. Your foundation is nonexistent.”
Alfred Hitchcock once described drama as "life with the boring bits cut out." In this passage, Kingsolver cuts out the boring parts of Willa's conversation with her contractor and brings us right to the tensest, most interesting part of the conversation.
By entering their conversation late , the reader is spared every tedious detail of their interaction.
Instead of a blow-by-blow account of their negotiations (what she needs done, when he’s free, how she’ll be paying), we’re dropped right into the emotional heart of the discussion. The novel opens with the narrator learning that the home she cherishes can’t be salvaged.
By starting off in the middle of (relatively obscure) dialogue, it takes a moment for the reader to orient themselves in the story and figure out who is speaking, and what they’re speaking about. This disorientation almost mirrors Willa’s own reaction to the bad news, as her expectations for a new life in her new home are swiftly undermined.
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2. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
In the first piece of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice , we meet Mr and Mrs Bennet, as Mrs Bennet attempts to draw her husband into a conversation about neighborhood gossip.
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?” Mr. Bennet replied that he had not. “But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.” Mr. Bennet made no answer. “Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently. “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.” This was invitation enough. “Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”
Austen’s dialogue is always witty, subtle, and packed with character. This extract from Pride and Prejudice is a great example of dialogue being used to develop character relationships .
We instantly learn everything we need to know about the dynamic between Mr and Mrs Bennet’s from their first interaction: she’s chatty, and he’s the beleaguered listener who has learned to entertain her idle gossip, if only for his own sake (hence “you want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it”).
There is even a clear difference between the two characters visually on the page: Mr Bennet responds in short sentences, in simple indirect speech, or not at all, but this is “invitation enough” for Mrs Bennet to launch into a rambling and extended response, dominating the conversation in text just as she does audibly.
The fact that Austen manages to imbue her dialogue with so much character-building realism means we hardly notice the amount of crucial plot exposition she has packed in here. This heavily expository dialogue could be a drag to get through, but Austen’s colorful characterization means she slips it under the radar with ease, forwarding both our understanding of these people and the world they live in simultaneously.
3. Naomi Alderman, The Power
In The Power , young women around the world suddenly find themselves capable of generating and controlling electricity. In this passage, between two boys and a girl who just used those powers to light her cigarette.
Kyle gestures with his chin and says, “Heard a bunch of guys killed a girl in Nebraska last week for doing that.” “For smoking? Harsh.” Hunter says, “Half the kids in school know you can do it.” “So what?” Hunter says, “Your dad could use you in his factory. Save money on electricity.” “He’s not my dad.” She makes the silver flicker at the ends of her fingers again. The boys watch.
Alderman here uses a show, don’t tell approach to expositional dialogue. Within this short exchange, we discover a lot about Allie, her personal circumstances, and the developing situation elsewhere. We learn that women are being punished harshly for their powers; that Allie is expected to be ashamed of those powers and keep them a secret, but doesn’t seem to care to do so; that her father is successful in industry; and that she has a difficult relationship with him. Using dialogue in this way prevents info-dumping backstory all at once, and instead helps us learn about the novel’s world in a natural way.
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4. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Here, friends Tommy and Kathy have a conversation after Tommy has had a meltdown. After being bullied by a group of boys, he has been stomping around in the mud, the precise reaction they were hoping to evoke from him.
“Tommy,” I said, quite sternly. “There’s mud all over your shirt.” “So what?” he mumbled. But even as he said this, he looked down and noticed the brown specks, and only just stopped himself crying out in alarm. Then I saw the surprise register on his face that I should know about his feelings for the polo shirt. “It’s nothing to worry about.” I said, before the silence got humiliating for him. “It’ll come off. If you can’t get it off yourself, just take it to Miss Jody.” He went on examining his shirt, then said grumpily, “It’s nothing to do with you anyway.”
This episode from Never Let Me Go highlights the power of interspersing action beats within dialogue. These action beats work in several ways to add depth to what would otherwise be a very simple and fairly nondescript exchange. Firstly, they draw attention to the polo shirt, and highlight its potential significance in the plot. Secondly, they help to further define Kathy’s relationship with Tommy.
We learn through Tommy’s surprised reaction that he didn’t think Kathy knew how much he loved his seemingly generic polo shirt. This moment of recognition allows us to see that she cares for him and understands him more deeply than even he realized. Kathy breaking the silence before it can “humiliate” Tommy further emphasizes her consideration for him. While the dialogue alone might make us think Kathy is downplaying his concerns with pragmatic advice, it is the action beats that tell the true story here.
5. J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit
The eponymous hobbit Bilbo is engaged in a game of riddles with the strange creature Gollum.
"What have I got in my pocket?" he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset. "Not fair! not fair!" he hissed. "It isn't fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it's got in its nassty little pocketses?" Bilbo seeing what had happened and having nothing better to ask stuck to his question. "What have I got in my pocket?" he said louder. "S-s-s-s-s," hissed Gollum. "It must give us three guesseses, my precious, three guesseses." "Very well! Guess away!" said Bilbo. "Handses!" said Gollum. "Wrong," said Bilbo, who had luckily just taken his hand out again. "Guess again!" "S-s-s-s-s," said Gollum, more upset than ever.
Tolkein’s dialogue for Gollum is a masterclass in creating distinct character voices . By using a repeated catchphrase (“my precious”) and unconventional spelling and grammar to reflect his unusual speech pattern, Tolkien creates an idiosyncratic, unique (and iconic) speech for Gollum. This vivid approach to formatting dialogue, which is almost a transliteration of Gollum's sounds, allows readers to imagine his speech pattern and practically hear it aloud.
We wouldn’t recommend using this extreme level of idiosyncrasy too often in your writing — it can get wearing for readers after a while, and Tolkien deploys it sparingly, as Gollum’s appearances are limited to a handful of scenes. However, you can use Tolkien’s approach as inspiration to create (slightly more subtle) quirks of speech for your own characters.
6. F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The narrator, Nick has just done his new neighbour Gatsby a favor by inviting his beloved Daisy over to tea. Perhaps in return, Gatsby then attempts to make a shady business proposition.
“There’s another little thing,” he said uncertainly, and hesitated. “Would you rather put it off for a few days?” I asked. “Oh, it isn’t about that. At least —” He fumbled with a series of beginnings. “Why, I thought — why, look here, old sport, you don’t make much money, do you?” “Not very much.” This seemed to reassure him and he continued more confidently. “I thought you didn’t, if you’ll pardon my — you see, I carry on a little business on the side, a little side line, if you understand. And I thought that if you don’t make very much — You’re selling bonds, aren’t you, old sport?” “Trying to.”
This dialogue from The Great Gatsby is a great example of how to make dialogue sound natural. Gatsby tripping over his own words (even interrupting himself , as marked by the em-dashes) not only makes his nerves and awkwardness palpable but also mimics real speech. Just as real people often falter and make false starts when they’re speaking off the cuff, Gatsby too flounders, giving us insight into his self-doubt; his speech isn’t polished and perfect, and neither is he despite all his efforts to appear so.
Fitzgerald also creates a distinctive voice for Gatsby by littering his speech with the character's signature term of endearment, “old sport”. We don’t even really need dialogue markers to know who’s speaking here — a sign of very strong characterization through dialogue.
7. Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
In this first meeting between the two heroes of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, John is introduced to Sherlock while the latter is hard at work in the lab.
“How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” “How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment. “Never mind,” said he, chuckling to himself. “The question now is about hemoglobin. No doubt you see the significance of this discovery of mine?” “It is interesting, chemically, no doubt,” I answered, “but practically— ” “Why, man, it is the most practical medico-legal discovery for years. Don’t you see that it gives us an infallible test for blood stains. Come over here now!” He seized me by the coat-sleeve in his eagerness, and drew me over to the table at which he had been working. “Let us have some fresh blood,” he said, digging a long bodkin into his finger, and drawing off the resulting drop of blood in a chemical pipette. “Now, I add this small quantity of blood to a litre of water. You perceive that the resulting mixture has the appearance of pure water. The proportion of blood cannot be more than one in a million. I have no doubt, however, that we shall be able to obtain the characteristic reaction.” As he spoke, he threw into the vessel a few white crystals, and then added some drops of a transparent fluid. In an instant the contents assumed a dull mahogany colour, and a brownish dust was precipitated to the bottom of the glass jar. “Ha! ha!” he cried, clapping his hands, and looking as delighted as a child with a new toy. “What do you think of that?”
This passage uses a number of the key techniques for writing naturalistic and exciting dialogue, including characters speaking over one another and the interspersal of action beats.
Sherlock cutting off Watson to launch into a monologue about his blood experiment shows immediately where Sherlock’s interest lies — not in small talk, or the person he is speaking to, but in his own pursuits, just like earlier in the conversation when he refuses to explain anything to John and is instead self-absorbedly “chuckling to himself”. This helps establish their initial rapport (or lack thereof) very quickly.
Breaking up that monologue with snippets of him undertaking the forensic tests allows us to experience the full force of his enthusiasm over it without having to read an uninterrupted speech about the ins and outs of a science experiment.
Starting to think you might like to read some Sherlock? Check out our guide to the Sherlock Holmes canon !
8. Brandon Taylor, Real Life
Here, our protagonist Wallace is questioned by Ramon, a friend-of-a-friend, over the fact that he is considering leaving his PhD program.
Wallace hums. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that I want to leave, but I’ve thought about it, sure.” “Why would you do that? I mean, the prospects for… black people, you know?” “What are the prospects for black people?” Wallace asks, though he knows he will be considered the aggressor for this question.
Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is drawn from the author’s own experiences as a queer Black man, attempting to navigate the unwelcoming world of academia, navigating the world of academia, and so it’s no surprise that his dialogue rings so true to life — it’s one of the reasons the novel is one of our picks for must-read books by Black authors .
This episode is part of a pattern where Wallace is casually cornered and questioned by people who never question for a moment whether they have the right to ambush him or criticize his choices. The use of indirect dialogue at the end shows us this is a well-trodden path for Wallace: he has had this same conversation several times, and can pre-empt the exact outcome.
This scene is also a great example of the dramatic significance of people choosing not to speak. The exchange happens in front of a big group, but — despite their apparent discomfort — nobody speaks up to defend Wallace, or to criticize Ramon’s patronizing microaggressions. Their silence is deafening, and we get a glimpse of Ramon’s isolation due to the complacency of others, all due to what is not said in this dialogue example.
9. Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants
In this short story, an unnamed man and a young woman discuss whether or not they should terminate a pregnancy while sitting on a train platform.
“Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.” “And you really want to?” “I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you really don’t want to.” “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” “I love you now. You know I love you.” “I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?” “I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.” “If I do it you won’t ever worry?” “I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”
This example of dialogue from Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants moves at quite a clip. The conversation quickly bounces back and forth between the speakers, and the call-and-response format of the woman asking and the man answering is effective because it establishes a clear dynamic between the two speakers: the woman is the one seeking reassurance and trying to understand the man’s feelings, while he is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation.
Note the sparing use of dialogue markers: this minimalist approach keeps the dialogue brisk, and we can still easily understand who is who due to the use of a new paragraph when the speaker changes .
Like this classic author’s style? Head over to our selection of the 11 best Ernest Hemingway books .
10. Madeline Miller, Circe
In Madeline Miller’s retelling of Greek myth, we witness a conversation between the mythical enchantress Circe and Telemachus (son of Odysseus).
“You do not grieve for your father?” “I do. I grieve that I never met the father everyone told me I had.” I narrowed my eyes. “Explain.” “I am no storyteller.” “I am not asking for a story. You have come to my island. You owe me truth.” A moment passed, and then he nodded. “You will have it.”
This short and punchy exchange hits on a lot of the stylistic points we’ve covered so far. The conversation is a taut tennis match between the two speakers as they volley back and forth with short but impactful sentences, and unnecessary dialogue tags have been shaved off . It also highlights Circe’s imperious attitude, a result of her divine status. Her use of short, snappy declaratives and imperatives demonstrates that she’s used to getting her own way and feels no need to mince her words.
11. Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name
This is an early conversation between seventeen-year-old Elio and his family’s handsome new student lodger, Oliver.
What did one do around here? Nothing. Wait for summer to end. What did one do in the winter, then? I smiled at the answer I was about to give. He got the gist and said, “Don’t tell me: wait for summer to come, right?” I liked having my mind read. He’d pick up on dinner drudgery sooner than those before him. “Actually, in the winter the place gets very gray and dark. We come for Christmas. Otherwise it’s a ghost town.” “And what else do you do here at Christmas besides roast chestnuts and drink eggnog?” He was teasing. I offered the same smile as before. He understood, said nothing, we laughed. He asked what I did. I played tennis. Swam. Went out at night. Jogged. Transcribed music. Read. He said he jogged too. Early in the morning. Where did one jog around here? Along the promenade, mostly. I could show him if he wanted. It hit me in the face just when I was starting to like him again: “Later, maybe.”
Dialogue is one of the most crucial aspects of writing romance — what’s a literary relationship without some flirty lines? Here, however, Aciman gives us a great example of efficient dialogue. By removing unnecessary dialogue and instead summarizing with narration, he’s able to confer the gist of the conversation without slowing down the pace unnecessarily. Instead, the emphasis is left on what’s unsaid, the developing romantic subtext.
Furthermore, the fact that we receive this scene in half-reported snippets rather than as an uninterrupted transcript emphasizes the fact that this is Elio’s own recollection of the story, as the manipulation of the dialogue in this way serves to mimic the nostalgic haziness of memory.
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12. George Eliot, Middlemarch
Two of Eliot’s characters, Mary and Rosamond, are out shopping,
When she and Rosamond happened both to be reflected in the glass, she said laughingly — “What a brown patch I am by the side of you, Rosy! You are the most unbecoming companion.” “Oh no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality,” said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving towards the new view of her neck in the glass. “You mean my beauty,” said Mary, rather sardonically. Rosamond thought, “Poor Mary, she takes the kindest things ill.” Aloud she said, “What have you been doing lately?” “I? Oh, minding the house — pouring out syrup — pretending to be amiable and contented — learning to have a bad opinion of everybody.”
This excerpt, a conversation between the level-headed Mary and vain Rosamond, is an example of dialogue that develops character relationships naturally. Action descriptors allow us to understand what is really happening in the conversation.
Whilst the speech alone might lead us to believe Rosamond is honestly (if clumsily) engaging with her friend, the description of her simultaneously gazing at herself in a mirror gives us insight not only into her vanity, but also into the fact that she is not really engaged in her conversation with Mary at all.
The use of internal dialogue cut into the conversation (here formatted with quotation marks rather than the usual italics ) lets us know what Rosamond is actually thinking, and the contrast between this and what she says aloud is telling. The fact that we know she privately realizes she has offended Mary, but quickly continues the conversation rather than apologizing, is emphatic of her character. We get to know Rosamond very well within this short passage, which is a hallmark of effective character-driven dialogue.
13. John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent
Here, Mary (speaking first) reacts to her husband Ethan’s attempts to discuss his previous experiences as a disciplined soldier, his struggles in subsequent life, and his feeling of impending change.
“You’re trying to tell me something.” “Sadly enough, I am. And it sounds in my ears like an apology. I hope it is not.” “I’m going to set out lunch.”
Steinbeck’s Winter of our Discontent is an acute study of alienation and miscommunication, and this exchange exemplifies the ways in which characters can fail to communicate, even when they’re speaking. The pair speaking here are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage which leaves Ethan feeling isolated, and part of his loneliness comes from the accumulation of exchanges such as this one. Whenever he tries to communicate meaningfully with his wife, she shuts the conversation down with a complete non sequitur.
We expect Mary’s “you’re trying to tell me something” to be followed by a revelation, but Ethan is not forthcoming in his response, and Mary then exits the conversation entirely. Nothing is communicated, and the jarring and frustrating effect of having our expectations subverted goes a long way in mirroring Ethan’s own frustration.
Just like Ethan and Mary, we receive no emotional pay-off, and this passage of characters talking past one another doesn’t further the plot as we hope it might, but instead gives us insight into the extent of these characters’ estrangement.
14. Bret Easton Ellis , Less Than Zero
The disillusioned main character of Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel, Clay, here catches up with a college friend, Daniel, whom he hasn’t seen in a while.
He keeps rubbing his mouth and when I realize that he’s not going to answer me, I ask him what he’s been doing. “Been doing?” “Yeah.” “Hanging out.” “Hanging out where?” “Where? Around.”
Less Than Zero is an elegy to conversation, and this dialogue is an example of the many vacuous exchanges the protagonist engages in, seemingly just to fill time. The whole book is deliberately unpoetic and flat, and depicts the lives of disaffected youths in 1980s LA. Their misguided attempts to fill the emptiness within them with drink and drugs are ultimately fruitless, and it shows in their conversations: in truth, they have nothing to say to one another at all.
This utterly meaningless exchange would elsewhere be considered dead weight to a story. Here, rather than being fat in need of trimming, the empty conversation is instead thematically resonant.
15. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
The young narrator of du Maurier’s classic gothic novel here has a strained conversation with Robert, one of the young staff members at her new husband’s home, the unwelcoming Manderley.
“Has Mr. de Winter been in?” I said. “Yes, Madam,” said Robert; “he came in just after two, and had a quick lunch, and then went out again. He asked for you and Frith said he thought you must have gone down to see the ship.” “Did he say when he would be back again?” I asked. “No, Madam.” “Perhaps he went to the beach another way,” I said; “I may have missed him.” “Yes, Madam,” said Robert. I looked at the cold meat and the salad. I felt empty but not hungry. I did not want cold meat now. “Will you be taking lunch?” said Robert. “No,” I said, “No, you might bring me some tea, Robert, in the library. Nothing like cakes or scones. Just tea and bread and butter.” “Yes, Madam.”
We’re including this one in our dialogue examples list to show you the power of everything Du Maurier doesn’t do: rather than cycling through a ton of fancy synonyms for “said”, she opts for spare dialogue and tags.
This interaction's cold, sparse tone complements the lack of warmth the protagonist feels in the moment depicted here. By keeping the dialogue tags simple , the author ratchets up the tension — without any distracting flourishes taking the reader out of the scene. The subtext of the conversation is able to simmer under the surface, and we aren’t beaten over the head with any stage direction extras.
The inclusion of three sentences of internal dialogue in the middle of the dialogue (“I looked at the cold meat and the salad. I felt empty but not hungry. I did not want cold meat now.”) is also a masterful touch. What could have been a single sentence is stretched into three, creating a massive pregnant pause before Robert continues speaking, without having to explicitly signpost one. Manipulating the pace of dialogue in this way and manufacturing meaningful silence is a great way of adding depth to a scene.
Phew! We've been through a lot of dialogue, from first meetings to idle chit-chat to confrontations, and we hope these dialogue examples have been helpful in illustrating some of the most common techniques.
If you’re looking for more pointers on creating believable and effective dialogue, be sure to check out our course on writing dialogue. Or, if you find you learn better through examples, you can look at our list of 100 books to read before you die — it’s packed full of expert storytellers who’ve honed the art of dialogue.
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How to Write a Dialogue
To write dialogue successfully, the writer must not only see both sides of a question but also place himself between two fictional people so that they can express their opposing views naturally and in harmony with their characters.
In this post, you will learn how to write a dialogue in 8 simple steps.
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How to Write a Dialogue? Explanation
Dialogue does not have any distinct format. However, some rules need to be followed to avoid confusion while pairing a statement with its speaker.
When the names of speakers are not mentioned, the dialogues should be written within quotation marks. Example: “I have an appointment today.” “What time is it?”
In such cases, attributions like he said, she replied, etc. should also be included. Example: “I do not trust that man,” he said.
An attribution when used at the beginning of a sentence should always be followed by a comma (,). Example: She said, “This is the clue we were looking for.”
When the names of the speakers are included, they should be followed by a colon mark (:). Example: Rita: How may I help you? Mr. Rao: Could you tell me the way to the boardroom?
Every time the speaker changes, a new line should be used. Example: Mother: What time will you be back? Sara: The class will get over by 4, so I should be home by 4.30. Mother: I may not be home when you come, but I will make some snacks for you before leaving.
How to Write a Dialogue?
- Written dialogue should appear spontaneous ; Therefore, do not include elaborate sentences.
- While writing dialogue, make sure that your thoughts are expressed clearly.
- Make a brief outline at the beginning so that all the important points are given enough credit.
- Arranging ideas in a logical sequence is equally important. Jumping back and forth with thoughts makes the piece look immature.
How to Write a Dialogue between two Persons?
A dialogue between two friends about career choices/their plans for the future..
Bikash: Well Rakesh, What profession do you want to take up after your education?
Rakesh: I want to be a teacher. It’s an interesting profession. What about you?
Bikash: I want to be a doctor.
Rakesh: Doctor! It’s a profession that has no attraction for me. Why do you want to be a doctor?
Bikash: It’s a respectable and independent profession. Moreover, a doctor can make more money than a teacher.
Rakesh: I’m not sure of that. There are very few doctors who do earn a lot of money; the majority of doctors find it difficult even to make a simple living. (118 words)
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Dialogue Writing – Format, Tips & Samples
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Dialogue Writing - Style, Format and Examples
Are you a good speaker or a great listener? If you are, you should have definitely come across multiple instances where something you said or you heard someone say stuck to your mind. This happens mainly because those words touched your heart or made you think. That is the effect of a good dialogue. Even a simple conversation with your family, friends or even an unknown group of people can give you ideas and thoughts to ponder on.
This article will introduce you to the art of dialogue writing and give you information about all that you need to know. Furthermore, go through the sample dialogues and analyse how they make an effect.
Table of Contents
What is dialogue writing, the purposes of writing a dialogue, inner dialogue, outer dialogue, basic format and structure of a dialogue, punctuation, what not to do when writing a dialogue – points to remember, dialogues from stories and plays, dialogues from movies and tv shows, frequently asked questions on dialogue writing in english.
The term ‘dialogue’ is something all of you would be familiar with. As social beings, people (irrespective of being young or old, male or female) communicate with each other. Such a communication where both parties involved in the conversation have something to say about the topic being discussed can be said to be dialogue. A dialogue can be on any topic – a very simple talk about a daily chore, a serious talk about a social or medical problem, a discussion about what has to be done for an event and so on. The only point that you should remember is that a dialogue isn’t just any conversation but a conversation between two people specifically.
The Collins Dictionary defines the term ‘dialogue’ as “a conversation between two people in a book, film, or play”. Transcribing a dialogue in writing or presenting a conversation in text is referred to as dialogue writing.
What do you think is the reason behind writing dialogues in a story, play or film? Is it mandatory to include dialogues in a story? There are stories where you have a third person narrator or one of the characters of the story presenting the story from their perspective. What difference does it make when there are dialogues instead of just someone narrating each and everything that is happening in the story?
Having dialogues along with stage directions instead of just narrations can be said to be a better writing technique as it gives the readers a clear picture of the characteristics of the various characters in the story, play or movie. It also gives your characters life, and above all, a voice of their own. Dialogues portray the emotional state, mindset, background information and attitude of the speakers. This will always be more effective as it would let the readers connect with the characters on a more personal level.
Dialogue writing is also one area where the writers get to be creative even to the extent of breaking some conventional grammatical rules. For instance, elongating a word or writing the whole word in capital letters or using multiple question marks or exclamation marks to stress on whatever is being said. For example: YESSSS!!
Another component of dialogue writing is adding stage directions. Stage directions are short phrases written in brackets that give the reader an idea of what the character is doing as they engage in the dialogue. For example: Dan (rubbing his eyes): I am still tired.
Types of Dialogues
Dialogues can be classified into two main types namely,
The term ‘inner dialogue’ refers to the individual character’s thoughts which are not spoken aloud; in other words, said to anyone else. They can be something a character is thinking as the other character is speaking and their thoughts about what is going on or what the other character is doing. These inner dialogues are not placed within quotation marks .
As the name suggests, ‘outer dialogues’ are thoughts that are spoken aloud. They refer to everything the two characters involved in the dialogue say to each other. Outer dialogues are usually placed with quotation marks.
Fundamental Rules to Be Followed When Writing a Dialogue
Dialogue writing can look and sound simple; however, when actually putting dialogue in writing, there are certain rules regarding the structure and format you need to follow. Go through each of these in detail in the sections given below.
Dialogues can be part of a story, a play or a movie. Each one has a different structure and format in which the dialogues have to be presented; however, there is a basic structure that can be followed. Go through the following points to learn the essential attributes a dialogue must have.
- The first thing you have to do before you write a dialogue is to decide who the characters are.
- You should also have a clear idea of the plot of the story, or in general, the context of the dialogue.
- Dialogues can be just a sentence, two or three lines or even a short paragraph. Whatever be the case, always remember that each character’s dialogue, no matter how short or long, has to be written on the next line. In other words, no two dialogues should appear on the same line. Also see to it that you indent each dialogue.
- If the dialogues are one-liners, you can write them one after the other. On the contrary, if each of your characters are speaking in chunks (short or long paragraphs), it is mandatory that you show the difference by using an optimum line spacing.
- Be very careful with the tense used in the dialogue.
- It is better to skip the small talk (including greetings) and start off with the point of discussion unless the small talk is crucial to setting the mood of the conversation.
In every form of writing, punctuation is an important factor that makes it sensible. In the same manner, dialogue writing also would not make any sense without proper punctuation. Learn how to punctuate dialogues by going through the following points.
- The first rule would be adding a colon after the name of the character to indicate that the particular character is the one speaking at the moment. Sometimes, a hyphen is used instead of a colon.
- The name of the character should always start with a capital letter as it is a proper noun. Sometimes, you will have characters such as villagers, student 1, student 2, etc. In these cases also, you will have to use a capital letter.
- Dialogues are to be placed within quotation marks.
- If you are including a character’s dialogue in another character’s dialogue, it has to be placed within single quotation marks. For example: “Don’t you think Rakesh saying ‘I will take the lead’ has some hidden agenda?”
- Also remember that any punctuation mark corresponding to the dialogue should always be placed within double quotation marks. For instance, if the dialogue is an interrogative sentence , the question mark has to come first marking the end of the sentence followed by the double quotation marks marking the end of the dialogue.
- When you insert the tag in the middle of the dialogue, make sure you close the quotation marks before the tag. The tag is preceded and followed by a comma . When you open quotation marks to continue the dialogue, see to it that you use a small letter to begin with if it is the continuation of the dialogue, and close the quotation marks once the dialogue is complete. For example: “Do you know”, he shouted to everyone, “who the new manager is?”
- If the dialogue tag is positioned in the beginning of the sentence, see to it that you start it with a capital letter as you are starting a new sentence. Place a comma after the dialogue tag followed by open quotation marks, the dialogue starting with a capital letter followed by the punctuation mark of the quote and close quotation marks. For example: Josh mumbled, “Nobody understands the main problem here.”
- A dialogue can also appear at the end of the sentence. In this case, the quotation comes first. Once you punctuate the quote and close the quotation marks, place the dialogue tag. Note that the dialogue tag is not capitalised. For example: “Are you coming with us?” Sarah asked.
- If a character’s dialogue is being interrupted by another character, use a dash to indicate the interference. For example: “I was wondering –”
“Are you ready to go?”
- Actions and body language of characters can be described in sentences and they can appear in between dialogues. For example: “I am not interested.” She shrugged her shoulders. “But, I will do it just for you.”
Now that you know how to write a dialogue, let us also look at what all you are not supposed to do when writing a dialogue.
- Using dialogue tags does give some clarity about the action and body language of the characters, but see to it that you do not use dialogue tags with every single dialogue. Also, make sure you don’t use too little.
- Using colloquial language is allowed in dialogue writing, but use them only if it matches the context.
- Dialogues need not be grammatically correct all the time. That does not mean you can write structureless sentences. You can have individual words or phrases as a dialogue. For example: “What?”, “Of course!”, “She started the fight?”
Examples of Dialogue Writing
To help you understand and learn the art of dialogue writing, here are a few examples from some famous stories, plays, movies and TV shows.
A few examples from ‘The Crocodile and the Monkey’ are given below. Go through them and try to analyse how the description and dialogues are written.
- The crocodile’s wife thought to herself, “If the monkey eats only these sweet rose-apples, his flesh must be sweet too. He would be a delicious dinner.”
- When they reached, the monkey climbed up the tree to safety. He looked at the crocodile and said, “Now you can go back to your wicked wife and tell her that her husband is the biggest fool in this world. Your foolishness has no parallel. You were ready to take my life because of an unjust demand from your wife. Then you were stupid enough to believe me and brought me back to the tree.”
Here are a few examples from the short story, ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O. Henry. Check them out.
- “Twenty dollars,” said Mrs. Sofronie, lifting the hair to feel its weight.
“Give it to me quick,” said Della.
- “Jim, dear,” she cried, “don’t look at me like that. I had my hair cut off and sold it. I couldn’t live through Christmas without giving you a gift. My hair will grow again. You won’t care, will you? My hair grows very fast. It’s Christmas, Jim. Let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I got for you.”
Here are a few quotes from the play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by William Shakespeare.
- Shylock: Three thousand ducats; well.
Bassanio: Ay, sir, for three months.
Shylock: For three months; well.
Bassanio: For which, as I told you, Antonio shall be bound.
Shylock: Antonio shall become bound; well.
Bassanio: May you stead me? Will you pleasure me? shall I know your answer?
Shylock: Three thousand ducats for three months and Antonio bound.
- Bassanio: And do you, Gratiano, mean good faith?
Gratiano: Yes, faith, my lord.
Bassanio: Our feast shall be much honour’d in your marriage.
Gratiano: We’ll play with them the first boy for a thousand ducats.
Check out the following section to learn how dialogues from movies and TV shows are written. Furthermore, analyse the style and language used.
The following sample conversation is from the Disney movie ‘Moana’. Check it out.
Maui: Boat! A boat! The Gods have given me a (screams)
Moana: Maui, shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea. I am Moana…
Maui: Hero of Man.
Maui: It’s actually Maui, shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea, hero of man. I
interrupted, from the top, hero of man. Go.
Moana: I am Mo…
Maui: Sorry, Sorry, sorry, sorry. And women. Men and women. Both. All. Not a guy-girl
thing. Ah, you know, Maui is a hero to all. You’re doing great.
Moana: What? No, I came here to…
Maui: Oh, of course, of course. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Maui always has time for his fans.
When you use a bird to write with, it’s called tweeting. (laughs) I know, not every day you
get a chance to meet your hero.
Moana: You are not my hero. And I’m not here so you can sign my oar. I’m here because
you stole the heart of Te Fiti and you will board my boat, sail across the sea, and put it
The following example is taken from the series ‘Anne with an E’.
- Diana: Anne!
Anne: Hello, Diana!
Diana: My, what have you done to your hat?
Anne: Well, I wanted to make a good first impression and it was so plain.
Diana: You’re making an impression all right.
Anne: I’m glad you found your way.
Diana: I expect we should be able to walk together soon.
Anne: We can’t?
Diana: I’m sure it won’t be long until my parents accept you, now that you’re a Cuthbert and all.
Also check out: Conversation between Teacher and Student │ Conversation between Doctor and Patient │ Conversation between Two Friends │ Conversation between Shopkeeper and Customer
What is dialogue writing?
A dialogue isn’t just any conversation but a conversation between two people specifically. Transcribing a dialogue in writing or presenting a conversation in text is referred to as dialogue writing.
What is the definition of a dialogue?
The Collins Dictionary defines the term ‘dialogue’ as “a conversation between two people in a book, film, or play”.
What is the format of dialogue writing?
The basic structure and format of a dialogue is as follows:
- Every speaker gets a new paragraph.
- The name of the character is followed by a colon and then the dialogue within quotes is written.
- If dialogue tags are used, use a comma after it if it comes in the beginning, a comma before and after if it comes in the middle and place it immediately after the quotation marks if it comes at the end.
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How to Write Dialogue — Examples, Tips & Techniques
E very screenwriter wants to write quippy, smart dialogue that makes the page sparkle and keeps the actors inspired. But how do you do it? There are dozens, if not hundreds, of lists and guides out there today that provide useful tips for how to write dialogue in a story. In this post, we’ll look at dialogue writing examples and examine a few tried-and-true methods for how to write a good dialogue, and provide you with all the best dialogue writing tips.
How to Write Dialogue Format
Should you use the chaos method .
A good first step is to look to accomplished writers to see how they became skilled at how to write dialogue . But we have to know what we’re looking for.
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino is as famous for his dialogue as he is for breaking the rules of screenwriting. Sure, to be able to craft dialogue that is so compelling it becomes a set piece unto itself, a la Tarantino, may be a good aesthetic model.
But trying to emulate his more stream of consciousness approach to dialogue writing may prove disorienting. Check out our video below and see if you notice anything that stands out about his approach to writing dialogue:
Though Tarantino doesn’t necessarily write according to plotted out script templates, and how he makes his creative choices might be largely unconscious, his secret weapon in how to write a good dialogue may be his extremely well-developed characters.
He knows who his characters are and what they want, and the characters’ desires shape his dialogue writing. And as we will see when we look at other screenwriters’ methods, character is everything in how to write dialogue in a script.
Tarantino on set
As the old adage goes, learning the rules in order to break them can make you a stronger writer – and in this case, we want to look at some of the best writing dialogue rules.
Writing from a structure can help make sure you don’t lose the thread of your story by getting too caught up in crafting clever, flashy dialogue that doesn’t connect to anything. And, a good structure can provide the perimeters for your writing to flow within, so you don’t have to pause to remember fifteen different rules of how to do dialogue!
How to Write a Good Dialogue
First things last.
In a post about how to approach how to write dialogue it may seem contradictory to say this, but a good rule for dialogue writing in a scene is to write the dialogue last.
After building out the other elements of your story (your arcs, acts, scenes, and beats ) you will have a better sense of how each scene connects to the larger unfolding of the story and, most importantly, what each character wants in a given scene.
You may not need a “how to write good dialogue format” if you always keep in mind your larger story arc, how each scene drives the story forward, and what each character’s motivations are in every scene.
An iconic dialogue scene from The Social Network
A good starting place in thinking about how to write dialogue in a script is to remember that in a screenplay, dialogue is not mere conversation. It always serves a larger purpose, which is to move the story forward.
The function of dialogue can be broken down into three purposes: exposition , characterization , or action. If we’re always clear on the larger purpose of a scene and we know each character’s motivations, we know what our dialogue is “doing” in that scene.
When we know what a character wants, we don’t have to worry as much about how to write dialogue because the motivations of the characters drive what they say. See our post on story beats to dig into story beats, which help illuminate what each character wants, and when they want it: What is a Story Beat in a Screenplay?
Functions of Dialogue
Exposition (to relay important information to other characters)
Characterization (to flesh out who a character is and what they want)
Action (to make decisions, reveal what they’re going to do)
The famous diner scene from Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally is an excellent example of both exposition and characterization, critical components of how to write dialogue between two characters.
The ongoing question of the film, and of Harry and Sally’s relationship, is whether heterosexual women and heterosexual men can really be platonic friends. Every other character in the film and their issues (the friend in an affair with a married man, the friends who are in a happy couple and getting married) all support the driving dilemma of the film: the desire to partner and escape the presumed suffering of dating.
Take a look at the scene:
When Harry Met Sally
Underneath this question of whether men and women can be friends is the subtext that they may ultimately end up together after all. The overriding question of the film is, after knowing each other, “how come they haven’t already?” The diner scene teases out the idea of sexual tension in a supposedly platonic friendship, raising the stakes.
The Art of Exposition • Subscribe on YouTube
Remember, though the scene depicts Harry and Sally having a conversation in a diner, the words they are speaking are not mere “conversation” – it is dialogue written to sound like a natural conversation. There is a difference.
Each word in Ephron’s dialogue writing has a purpose. Sally says she is upset about how Harry treats the women he dates and that she’s glad she never dated him (underscoring the ongoing conflict of the film).
Harry defends himself, saying he doesn’t hear any of them complaining (alluding to how he wouldn’t disappoint her, either). When Sally suggests the women he dates might be faking orgasm, Harry doesn’t believe her, which prompts her to fake an orgasm right there in the diner to make her point (ratcheting up the film’s primary conflict, while also providing some comic relief).
You can read the scene, which we imported into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software , below:
When Harry Met Sally script
This scene works so well because it serves a crystal clear purpose in driving the story forward.
Great dialogue writing examples always drive the plot from one scene to the next. You may not like plotting out your story beats, thinking about story arcs in a methodological way, or approaching how to write dialogue between two characters systematically at all.
Just remember, most professional screenwriters do, and Writing Dialogue rules might be an instance where it is worth learning the rules in order to break them. Check out more great dinner scenes to inspire how to tackle this awkward but important type of scene!
How to Write Dinner Dialogue • Subscribe on YouTube
How to write dialogue in a script , what do your characters want .
Finally, we’ve come to our favorite part. The lines. Famed playwright and screenwriter David Mamet says great dialogue boils down to this one concept: “Nobody says anything unless they want something.”
This handy motto is one of the best dialogue writing tips, if not the only one you need. This principle encapsulates what many other rules of dialogue writing are getting at.
The advice to use as few words as possible, to cut the fat, to arrive late and leave early, to write with subtext in mind, to show rather than tell – all of those goals can be met by keeping the focus on what the characters want.
David Mamet at work
If they don’t want anything, they don’t need to say anything. If you have a clear idea of who your characters are, and what the function of each scene is in the story, then your characters' agendas, conflicts, and obstacles, and their manner of speaking to express themselves, can come forward more naturally. If you know what your characters want, you may find that you know how to write dialogue in a story very naturally!
And yet, there is a caveat here: Screenwriter Karl Iglesias warns that it can be easy to have the character saying what you , the writer, want, not what they , the character, want.
Because what you , the writer, want them to do is of course to carry some part of the story for you. So another important tool to put in your toolbox of dialogue writing tips is to always zoom in on the character , and stay tuned into what they want at any given point in the story.
“Nobody says anything unless they want something.”
— David Mamet
Check out the last scene from Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross , a film based on the screenplay, also by Mamet, and a gold standard of excellent movie dialogue.
Mamet’s principle that each character has to show what they want is demonstrated brilliantly in the final scene. At the beginning of the film, everyone at a New York City real estate office learns all but the top two salesmen will be fired in two weeks.
Levene (Jack Lemmon) is a salesman who wants to keep his job and survive. In the final scene, Williamson (Kevin Spacey) accuses Levene of stealing leads from the office. By this final scene, what Levene wants has shifted. Now he wants to convince Williamson of his innocence.
Take a look:
Final Scene from Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992
Dialogue writing examples , rinse & repeat.
Now it’s time to sculpt the general arc of your story into form – and the minimalist principles of how to write dialogue in a story can help bring your vision to life.
You want to cast a harsh light on your text in order to whittle down everything you’ve written. Make sure every last word really needs to be there. You want to yank anything that gets in the way of telling the great story you want to tell. That way, the lines will be focused, compelling, and inspire great actors to want to bring them to life.
Remember: We’re not yanking lines if they’re not sparkly or punchy enough, we’re yanking them if they don’t serve a purpose.
Even the cutest remark can actually be clutter, and even the more mundane lines can play a vital role by elucidating our character’s motives, the conflict they’ve encountered, and where the story is going next. The more dialogue writing examples you read, the more you’ll see how the characters’ motivations are driving not only what is said, but how it is said.
- 22 Essential Screenwriting Tips →
- What is a Story Beat in a Screenplay? →
- FREE: Search StudioBinder’s Database of Film & TV Screenplays →
Another approach for how to write great dialogue in a script is to read through every line of the script aloud to make sure it flows naturally.
You could also try putting your hand or a piece of paper of the names of the characters. Can you tell who is saying what?
If each character doesn’t have a discernible way of speaking, revisit your character development and really define who this person is, what they want, and all their quirks and characteristics. Then revamp their lines to make all of that come to the forefront in each line. And when in doubt, revisit dialogue writing examples from your favorite movies and shows to get the juices flowing.
Another tip for how to properly write dialogue is to scan your script for “dialogue dumps.” The best way to avoid “As you know, Bob…” information dumps in your dialogue is to let the characters bat pieces of information back and forth. Check out our video on exposition below:
How to write good exposition • Subscribe on YouTube
Let them reveal bits of it over time, scattered throughout a scene like breadcrumbs. Let them argue about it, challenge what each other knows. Do they already know it, or are they wrestling with it?
Assess your dialogue to make sure what you’re trying to accomplish with a line of dialogue couldn’t better be said with an action, an adjustment to scene or setting, a facial expression, or some other nonverbal detail.
The “Good to See Another Brother” scene from Get Out is a great example of keeping the dialogue minimal and letting facial expression, costume, and tone convey the information:
Get Out screenplay
At this point in the story, Chris still thinks he is simply one of the few black people in his white girlfriend’s upper middle class white family and their social circle.
We, the audience, still might think we’re watching a rom com that conveys only a mild awareness of race, somewhere off in the background of the story. But in this scene, race starts moving forward as a central plot point.
Chris approaches Andre, because he wants to feel a sense of connection in an isolating environment. In order to convey layers of social anxiety and racial tension, all that Jordan Peele needs is the line, “It’s good to see another brother around here.”
Throughout the film, Peele exemplifies how spreading information out like bread crumbs can help build tension and curiosity about a scene.
Jordan Peele on the set of Get Out
Look at how much room Peele leaves in the script to describe how Andre’s character should convey his response (“soft-spoken,” “no trace of an urban dialect”). This helps load every word in the scene with more weight and purpose. When Andre does speak, his words are few.
He has visibly changed his style and manner of speaking since Chris first saw him, he won’t say much, and has a glazed over expression on his face. All of this raises the stakes: What is going on here?
Get Out still
In order to learn how to write dialogue, one of the most important writing dialogue rules is to stay in touch with where your characters are in the story at all times.
Building your story, your character arcs, and your story beats before writing can help provide a structure that will give your writing a container in which to flow. Developing compelling characters and making sure that every bit of dialogue real estate on the page is devoted to serving a function in your screenplay can help streamline the whole dialogue writing process.
But regardless of which method you use, if anything, just remember the Mamet Motto: “Nobody says anything unless they want something.”
How to introduce your characters.
Writing great dialogue is the icing on the cake of a great story. The importance of building out your story and really being clear on where we’re going, who wants what, and what the conflicts and motivations are the foundation beneath all the other writing dialogue rules. But having solid character descriptions is only the first step. You also have to give each one a great entrance. Check out our post to get some tips on how each compelling, amazing character you write can make their grand entrance.
Up Next: How to Introduce Your Characters →
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How to write dialogue: 7 steps for great conversation
Learning how to write dialogue in a story is crucial. Writing gripping conversations that include conflict and disagreement and further your story will make readers want to read on. Here are 7 steps to improve your dialogue writing skills:
- Post author By Jordan
- 4 Comments on How to write dialogue: 7 steps for great conversation
7 steps to write better dialogue:
- Learn how to format dialogue
- Include conflict and disagreement
- Involve characters’ goals, fears and desires
- Include subtext for subtle gestures and effects
- Involve context for tone and atmosphere
- Learn by copying out great dialogue writing
Let’s expand these ideas:
1. Learn how to format dialogue
You should always leave your reader caught up in your dialogue, not lost in it. Good formatting is key to making dialogue enjoyable and effortless to read [that’s why formatting is the focus of Week 1 of our writing course, How to Write Dialogue ].
Here are some guidelines for how to write dialogue for maximum clarity:
a) Every time you change speaker, start a new, indented line
Follow this convention because it’s all too easy to lose track of who’s saying what in dialogue. An example of good format:
“What were you thinking?” Sarah frowned.
“I wasn’t. Thinking, I mean,” Tom admitted.
b) Always use opening and closing speech marks
If you write in US English, it’s standard to use double quotation marks for dialogue. In UK English, single quotation marks suffice.
There is an exception: If you have the same character speaking across multiple paragraphs, uninterrupted (if a character is telling a long story), use an opening speech mark for each paragraph and only use a closing speech mark at the end of the last paragraph before narration resumes or another character speaks.
c) Place all dialogue punctuation inside speech marks
In the above example, the question mark in Sarah’s dialogue comes before the closing speech marks, not after.
If the end of a line of dialogue is also the end of the sentence, place the period or full stop before the closing speech marks because it’s part of the rhythm of the speech. It’s part of character’s own coming to a stop (it doesn’t lie outside their speech):
“That’s your problem,” Sarah chided, “you only ever rely on your gut.”
The best policy when formatting dialogue is to check published books and compare multiple dialogue extracts. Investigate what the most common practice is in books by published authors in your country, and remember to be similarly consistent.
Get the hang of great dialogue
Learn how to write dialogue in a structured, four-week self-study course.
2. Cut filler
In strong dialogue, there is no filler . If characters speak on the phone, there are no ‘may I speak to’s’ or ‘Please hold’s’. Cut all filler from your dialogue. Launch straight into any phone conversation. For example:
The voice on the other end of the line was doubtful; suspicious.
Sometimes, filler material such as an introduction between characters , is necessary. Yet take the opportunity to weave in colourful character description . For example, here is an introduction in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations that is full of character:
‘…Joe was smoking his pipe in company with Mr. Wopsle and a stranger. Joe greeted me as usual with “Halloa, Pip, old chap!” and the moment he said that, the stranger turned his head and looked at me.
He was a secret-looking man whom I had never seen before. His head was all on one side, and one of his eyes was half shut up, as if he were taking aim at something with an invisible gun.’
Note that Joe’s greeting is just four words. Yet Dickens instead adds narration around Joe’s voice, giving detailed character description.
‘Filler’ includes unnecessary dialogue tags. Instead of an endless ‘he said, she said’, see where you can replace a tag with a gesture or motion that supplies more story information. Compare:
“So you’re leaving…” he said.
“I thought that much was obvious,” she said.
The dialogue tags have a monotonous, repetitive effect. You could either leave them out entirely (if the preceding scene’s context makes it clear who says which line), or you could add gesture that attributes the dialogue the same:
“So you’re leaving…” He folds his arms, standing in the doorway.
“I thought that much was obvious.” Pausing her packing, she looks over her shoulder at him, resisting the sudden impulse to turn and face him.
Here the dialogue supplies a lot more detail about the emotions of the scene, while avoiding clunky repetition of a standard dialogue writing device.
Another type of filler in dialogue is excessive adverbs. Let the words themselves convey tone and mood:
3. Include conflict and disagreement
Key to writing great dialogue is knowing how to write dialogue involving confrontation or disagreement . In real life, we might go weeks without a single terse or grumpy word to another person. Yet in stories, conflict and confrontation in dialogue supply narrative tension and this keeps the story compelling.
If everyone in your novel gets on swimmingly with everyone else, this could result in dull dialogue.
For example, the verbal sparring between Estella and Pip in Great Expectations creates tension, as we see Estella taunt and test Pip by insulting and goading him. Her dialogue and behaviour is consistent with Estella’s backstory. Her legal guardian, Miss Havisham, once jilted by a lover, has turned the young Estella against boys and sentimentality:
“Well?” “Well, miss?” I answered, almost falling over her and checking myself. “Am I pretty?” “Yes; I think you are very pretty.” “Am I insulting?” “Not so much so as you were last time,” said I. “Not so much so?” “No.” She fired when she asked the last question, and she slapped my face with such force as she had, when I answered it. “Now?” said she. “You little coarse monster, what do you think of me now?” “I shall not tell you.”
Conflict and disagreement might not be anything so dramatic as a physical altercation mid-dialogue. It could be something as small as two traveling characters arguing over a map in the middle of a maze-like city. But these moments of tension are useful for illustrating how your characters react (and interact) under pressure.
4. Involve characters’ goals, fears and desires
Remember that characters don’t always need to be honest, willing or helpful conversation partners. They may be cryptic and misguiding. They can trip each other up with questions and evasive responses. This is particularly the case in dialogue where characters hold different levels of power (in an interrogation or courtroom cross-examination, for example).
Like an unreliable narrator, an unreliable character in conversation could feed your protagonist false information, out of their own motivation.
In every dialogue, keep in mind what motivates each character.
Before you start writing an important section of dialogue, ask yourself:
- What does each character want at this point in the story? What do they fear?
- How might each character’s goals, fears and desires shift or affect this particular conversation?
When you connect character’s conversations to their personal paths and goals in your story, even if just subconsciously, this will help you write more directed, purposeful-seeming dialogue. This is particularly important in genres such as crime and mystery, where characters gaining information from others forms a big part of the narrative.
This leads into subtext in dialogue:
5: Include subtext for subtle gestures and effects
Subtext in dialogue is as important as context . It’s the ‘why’ (in addition to the where ) underlying characters’ conversations. If, for example, a spouse suspects their partner of cheating, this underlying mistrust could be the subtext for an unrelated conversation about dinner plans with their friends. The subtext explains the turn the conversation takes:
“The Watsons have invited us for dinner this Saturday.” She beamed.
“What, again? That’s the third time this month. You seem thrilled. Next they’ll be inviting you to a menage a trois.”
She didn’t understand why he brought every conversation to sex lately. It seemed a new infatuation. And why did he always state the obvious about her every mood and gesture?
Here, the subtext of suspicion and mistrust makes the dialogue interesting. A mundane conversation about dinner plans becomes a story in miniature about jealousy and miscommunication.
6. Involve context for tone and atmosphere
The context in dialogue (another subject we explore in How to Write Dialogue) is important. The context of a conversation – the place where the conversation occurs, and the circumstances leading to it – gives us important details. Mastering using context in dialogue is important because it will help you avoid using adverbs with dialogue tags that make the author’s shaping hand too visible. For example:
“I think someone might be in the house,” she said softly.
Here, you could use the stronger tag ‘she whispered’ to convey volume and eliminate the unnecessary adverb. Yet you could also use context from setting and narration to convey the softness of the conversation here:
For weeks they’d been tempted to enter the dilapidated house. It was a late, windy Friday afternoon when temptation got the better of them. They’d knocked nervously first, not knowing what they’d do if someone answered. After a hushed minute, they’d crept and tip-toed inside, while the paint-stripped front door creaked closed. They were huddling together and shuffling down a dark, musty corridor when she heard a sudden noise from upstairs. “I think someone might be in the house…” Her eyes were wide, her voice barely audible.
Here you don’t need an adverb – the context supplies plenty of detail to suggest the character’s fear and the house’s eerie stillness.
When thinking about the context of characters’ conversation, remember Toni Morrison’s dialogue writing advice:
“I never say ‘She says softly’ […] If it’s not already soft, you know, I have to leave a lot of space around it so a reader can hear that it’s soft.’
7. Learn by copying out great dialogue
Many great artists in all mediums – art, literature, music – have learned and honed their craft by copying out effective work by their peers and predecessors. To write great dialogue, write down a few lines of dialogue in a journal when you come across dialogue in a story that makes you say ‘wow!’
Create your own treasure trove of inspiring dialogue snippets that you can dip into whenever you need a reminder of how to write dialogue that builds character and story.
Want helpful feedback on sections of your dialogue? Enroll in our four-week course How to Write Dialogue and get an editor’s feedback.
I took the course “How to Write Dialogue” offered by Now Novel. The learning material is well-structured and easy to comprehend. The clear and elegant style of the workbooks made me enjoy the learning process. Creative assignments inspired me to complete each of them. Lastly, the course instructors reviewed the final writing assignment and provided with feedback. I am grateful to receive advice on areas of improvement. I recommend this course for each writer who wants to build a good foundation in writing dialogues. — Tanya
- Voices on the page: points to consider when writing dialogue
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- Tags dialogue , how to format dialogue
Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.
4 replies on “How to write dialogue: 7 steps for great conversation”
Great tips, thanks!
It’s a pleasure, Charlotte. Thanks for reading!
Gud one …actually awesome
Found perfection place
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How to write good dialogue
By BBC Maestro Writing Last updated: 02 May 2022
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Dialogue is one of the most powerful tools in the hands of any writer. You can use dialogue to convey a great deal in your writing, from giving a sense of time and place, to showing the power dynamics between different characters.
However, crafting great dialogue isn’t always easy. You may find yourself staring at blank page, scratching your head and asking yourself - exactly how do you write dialogue? Fear not, we’ve pulled together some expert tips and tricks to help you get those characters conversing in a way that’s natural, authentic and truly compelling for your readers.
Why dialogue matters
The three functions of dialogue are to reveal character, move the story forward and give us information.
Noughts & Crosses author, Malorie Blackman , expertly sums up the importance of dialogue in a story. As a writer, dialogue is your secret weapon to share the nuances of your characters with your reader and to share information in a natural way. Well written dialogue is a guaranteed way to keep your readers engaged and make sure they can’t put your book down.
Here are some of the ways dialogue is essential to storytelling:
Shows the inner world of your character
The way your character speaks - what they say and how they say it - can reveal a great deal about their inner workings, views, morals, hopes, fears and background. This is particularly important if your story is written from a third-person perspective, where you are not ‘in the head’ of the main character like you would be in a first-person narrative.
Does your character speak differently depending on who they are talking to? Do they use idioms or slang words? Are they verbose or succinct? Are they rude or polite? There are endless ways to convey character through speech.
Avoids too much exposition
Dialogue shows, rather than tells, which is a nifty way of avoiding too much exposition (over-explaining the plot) in your writing.
Overuse of exposition is the fastest way to kill any great storytelling. Spelling out to your reader exactly what is happening (and what has happened in the past) makes your story flat. Instead hinting at past and current events through dialogue can be a dynamic way to move your plot forward.
Sets the time and place
Dialogue can give a sense of the time period in which your story is set. For example, popular slang words like ‘rad’, ‘far out’, and ‘lit’ all mean the same thing, but all hint at a specific time period.
Characters in a period romance will most likely speak completely different to those in a high-action sci-fi novel set in a distant galaxy (although, maybe not!).
The setting of where your characters are conversing can impact the way characters speak too.
“Setting can impact the information you’re trying to give your character… two characters could be trying to have a conversation on a park bench and whether they are in blazing sunshine, pouring rain or heavy snow, that is going to impact how on not just what is said, but how it’s said,” says Malorie Blackman.
Tips for writing great dialogue
Every conversation gets structured in the same way as a joke - it builds up to a punchline. It could be a dramatic punchline or an amusing punchline, or it can be both.
Now we’ve covered why good dialogue is an essential ingredient in your story, let’s explore some ways you can learn to write truly great dialogue.
Listen to how people really speak
Like everything in storytelling, if your writing and dialogue feels authentic, your story will be more engaging for the reader. In real life, eavesdropping is a fantastic way to pick up on how people actually speak. Settle in a bustling coffee shop and see what snippets of conversation you pick up as the world goes by
Remove the small talk
In written dialogue, you should avoid small talk. How many great scenes start with the lines ‘hi, how are you?’, ‘oh I’m not bad, thanks, how are you?’. Not many.
So how do you start a dialogue conversation? Line Of Duty writer Jed Mercurio highlights the importance of getting straight to the point.
“Dialogue in drama is not like real speech. If you were to read a transcript of real speech it would be filled with pauses and thoughts begun and abandoned, then rethought. Dialogue contains far more information than speech in the real world. Your characters get to the point really quickly. This is because as a writer you’re always polishing your dialogue, you’re trying to say something in the most complicated thing in the simplest possible way, you’re trying to be as concise as possible.”
Jed adds that when writing a piece of dialogue you should “enter a scene as late as possible and exit as early as possible,” to keep up the pace and leave the reader wanting more.
“Never have one character say to another ‘as you know…’ and then explain the plot. That’s exponential dialogue at its worst,” says Alan Moore in his online storytelling course . Instead, Alan says, you should explain plot points in a memorably dramatic way - in other words, show don’t tell.
“The only time that lines of dialogue really stand out is when they don’t feel true to the character or when they seem hugely convenient or expositional,” adds Jed Mercurio.
However, Jed points out that there are some clever ways you can work exposition into your dialogue when absolutely necessary. One example is to use an argument to go over old ground, when tensions are high people tend to bring up the past. Or you could have one character that’s forgotten a vital piece of information - the character that reminds them of something should be exasperated, just as you would be in the real world.
“Sometimes people say exactly what they mean, but sometimes they don’t. And actually, when you have someone saying one thing but meaning another, that can be really interesting to write and to read,” says Malorie Blackman in her online creative writing course . She points out that the lines ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you’ is a great example of this.
Jed Mercurio echoes this sentiment: “You must consider writing dialogue in which characters hold back. They say something related to what they think and feel, but it’s not exactly what they think and feel - it’s subtextual.
“Tailor every line of dialogue to a specific character. It’s important that characters are distinguished by their values - what they think, what they do, what they say they will do… and then don’t do.”
Keep it authentic
“Whether we like it or not, part of the way we judge people is by how they speak, what they say and how they say it. Think about the class of your character, their education, where they’re from - all these things are going to have an impact on dialogue and accent.,” says Malorie. “Does your character ‘code switch’ - do they talk a certain way to older people or their parents, and do they talk a certain way when they’re with their friends?”
How to format dialogue
Now you’ve mastered ways to write brilliant dialogue, here are some practical tips on presenting dialogue in your writing. This is an important part to get right if you want to share your manuscript with publishers or literary agents.
We’ll show both the British English and US English versions.
1. Enclose spoken words within double or single quotation marks. For example:
‘I love this house.’ (British)
“I love this house.” (US)
Note that punctuation also lives inside the quotation marks - in this example the full stop/period.
2. Use dialogue tags (he said/she said etc.) outside of the quotation marks and separated by a comma. For example:
‘I love this house,’ she said.
She said, ‘I love this house.’
3. Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. For example:
‘You know what?’ she said, ‘I love this house.’
4. Action that happens before or after the dialogue should go in its own sentence.
She pulled back the curtains. ‘You know what?’ she said, ‘I love this house.’
5. Start a new paragraph whenever a new character speaks. This helps the reader work out who is speaking. For example:
‘Me too,’ he said, ‘I just wish we could stay forever.’
6. For longer sections of dialogue, like a speech, break up the text with paragraphs. Use quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but only close the quotation marks at the end of the final paragraph.
7. If the person speaking quotes someone else, use single quotation marks to show this. For example:
‘Unfortunately, it’s just not going to be possible for us to stay. Sure, my Uncle John said ‘stay as long as you need’ but I’m not sure he really meant that.’
These are just some of the basic rules of formatting dialogue, remember if you’re ever unsure the best thing is to do a quick check online to make sure you’re getting all of the formatting right.
Checklist for good dialogue
And finally, here is a quick checklist for you to run through every time you write a piece of dialogue into your story.
- Is it authentic?
- Is this how your character would really speak?
- Does the dialogue reflect the period?
- Check for slang words, or phrases that are time-specific.
- Why is one character talking to another?
- What is the subtext?
- Is there too much exposition?
- Is it properly formatted?
Remember, writing great dialogue takes practice. To help you master the writing craft, we offer a range of online writing courses from some of the most respected authors in the literary world.
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What is dialogue? Here’s a quick and simple definition:
Dialogue is the exchange of spoken words between two or more characters in a book, play, or other written work. In prose writing, lines of dialogue are typically identified by the use of quotation marks and a dialogue tag, such as "she said." In plays, lines of dialogue are preceded by the name of the person speaking. Here's a bit of dialogue from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland : "Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here."
Some additional key details about dialogue:
- Dialogue is defined in contrast to monologue , when only one person is speaking.
- Dialogue is often critical for moving the plot of a story forward, and can be a great way of conveying key information about characters and the plot.
- Dialogue is also a specific and ancient genre of writing, which often takes the form of a philosophical investigation carried out by two people in conversation, as in the works of Plato. This entry, however, deals with dialogue as a narrative element, not as a genre.
How to Pronounce Dialogue
Here's how to pronounce dialogue: dye -uh-log
Dialogue in Depth
Dialogue is used in all forms of writing, from novels to news articles to plays—and even in some poetry. It's a useful tool for exposition (i.e., conveying the key details and background information of a story) as well as characterization (i.e., fleshing out characters to make them seem lifelike and unique).
Dialogue as an Expository Tool
Dialogue is often a crucial expository tool for writers—which is just another way of saying that dialogue can help convey important information to the reader about the characters or the plot without requiring the narrator to state the information directly. For instance:
- In a book with a first person narrator, the narrator might identify themselves outright (as in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go , which begins "My name is Kathy H. I am thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years.").
- Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about the room, stopped and rested his hand on my shoulder. "What you doing, Nick?”
The above example is just one scenario in which important information might be conveyed indirectly through dialogue, allowing writers to show rather than tell their readers the most important details of the plot.
Expository Dialogue in Plays and Films
Dialogue is an especially important tool for playwrights and screenwriters, because most plays and films rely primarily on a combination of visual storytelling and dialogue to introduce the world of the story and its characters. In plays especially, the most basic information (like time of day) often needs to be conveyed through dialogue, as in the following exchange from Romeo and Juliet :
BENVOLIO Good-morrow, cousin. ROMEO Is the day so young? BENVOLIO But new struck nine. ROMEO Ay me! sad hours seem long.
Here you can see that what in prose writing might have been conveyed with a simple introductory clause like "Early the next morning..." instead has to be conveyed through dialogue.
Dialogue as a Tool for Characterization
In all forms of writing, dialogue can help writers flesh out their characters to make them more lifelike, and give readers a stronger sense of who each character is and where they come from. This can be achieved using a combination of:
- Colloquialisms and slang: Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. This can be used in dialogue to establish that a character is from a particular time, place, or class background. Similarly, slang can be used to associate a character with a particular social group or age group.
- The form the dialogue takes: for instance, multiple books have now been written in the form of text messages between characters—a form which immediately gives readers some hint as to the demographic of the characters in the "dialogue."
- The subject matter: This is the obvious one. What characters talk about can tell readers more about them than how the characters speak. What characters talk about reveals their fears and desires, their virtues and vices, their strengths and their flaws.
For example, in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's narrator uses dialogue to introduce Mrs. and Mr. Bennet, their relationship, and their differing attitudes towards arranging marriages for their daughters:
"A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!” “How so? How can it affect them?” “My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.” “Is that his design in settling here?” “Design! Nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes.”
This conversation is an example of the use of dialogue as a tool of characterization , showing readers—without explaining it directly—that Mrs. Bennet is preoccupied with arranging marriages for her daughters, and that Mr. Bennet has a deadpan sense of humor and enjoys teasing his wife.
Recognizing Dialogue in Different Types of Writing
It's important to note that how a writer uses dialogue changes depending on the form in which they're writing, so it's useful to have a basic understanding of the form dialogue takes in prose writing (i.e., fiction and nonfiction) versus the form it takes in plays and screenplays—as well as the different functions it can serve in each. We'll cover that in greater depth in the sections that follow.
Dialogue in Prose
In prose writing, which includes fiction and nonfiction, there are certain grammatical and stylistic conventions governing the use of dialogue within a text. We won't cover all of them in detail here (we'll skip over the placement of commas and such), but here are some of the basic rules for organizing dialogue in prose:
- Punctuation : Generally speaking, lines of dialogue are encased in double quotation marks "such as this," but they may also be encased in single quotation marks, 'such as this.' However, single quotation marks are generally reserved for quotations within a quotation, e.g., "Even when I dared him he said 'No way,' so I dropped the subject."
- "Where did you go?" she asked .
- I said , "Leave me alone."
- "Answer my question," said Monica , "or I'm leaving."
- Line breaks : Lines of dialogue spoken by different speakers are generally separated by line breaks. This is helpful for determining who is speaking when dialogue tags have been omitted.
Of course, some writers ignore these conventions entirely, choosing instead to italicize lines of dialogue, for example, or not to use quotation marks, leaving lines of dialogue undifferentiated from other text except for the occasional use of a dialogue tag. Writers that use nonstandard ways of conveying dialogue, however, usually do so in a consistent way, so it's not hard to figure out when someone is speaking, even if it doesn't look like normal dialogue.
Indirect vs. Direct Dialogue
In prose, there are two main ways for writers to convey the content of a conversation between two characters: directly, and indirectly. Here's an overview of the difference between direct and indirect dialogue:
- This type of dialogue can often help lend credibility or verisimilitude to dialogue in a story narrated in the first-person, since it's unlikely that a real person would remember every line of dialogue that they had overheard or spoken.
- Direct Dialogue: This is what most people are referring to when they talk about dialogue. In contrast to indirect dialogue, direct dialogue is when two people are speaking and their words are in quotations.
Of these two types of dialogue, direct dialogue is the only one that counts as dialogue strictly speaking. Indirect dialogue, by contrast, is technically considered to be part of a story's narration.
A Note on Dialogue Tags and "Said Bookisms"
It is pretty common for writers to use verbs other than "said" and "asked" to attribute a line of dialogue to a speaker in a text. For instance, it's perfectly acceptable for someone to write:
- Robert was beginning to get worried. "Hurry!" he shouted.
- "I am hurrying," Nick replied.
However, depending on how it's done, substituting different verbs for "said" can be quite distracting, since it shifts the reader's attention away from the dialogue and onto the dialogue tag itself. Here's an example where the use of non-standard dialogue tags begins to feel a bit clumsy:
- Helen was thrilled. "Nice to meet you," she beamed .
- "Nice to meet you, too," Wendy chimed .
Dialogue tags that use verbs other than the standard set (which is generally thought to include "said," "asked," "replied," and "shouted") are known as "said bookisms," and are generally ill-advised. But these "bookisms" can be easily avoided by using adverbs or simple descriptions in conjunction with one of the more standard dialogue tags, as in:
- Helen was thrilled. "Nice to meet you," she said, beaming.
- "Nice to meet you, too," Wendy replied brightly.
In the earlier version, the irregular verbs (or "said bookisms") draw attention to themselves, distracting the reader from the dialogue. By comparison, this second version reads much more smoothly.
Dialogue in Plays
Dialogue in plays (and screenplays) is easy to identify because, aside from the stage directions, dialogue is the only thing a play is made of. Here's a quick rundown of the basic rules governing dialogue in plays:
- Names: Every line of dialogue is preceded by the name of the person speaking.
- Mama (outraged) : What kind of way is that to talk about your brother?
- Line breaks: Each time someone new begins speaking, just as in prose, the new line of dialogue is separated from the previous one by a line break.
Rolling all that together, here's an example of what dialogue looks like in plays, from Edward Albee's Zoo Story:
JERRY: And what is that cross street there; that one, to the right? PETER: That? Oh, that's Seventy-fourth Street. JERRY: And the zoo is around Sixty-5th Street; so, I've been walking north. PETER: [anxious to get back to his reading] Yes; it would seem so. JERRY: Good old north. PETER: [lightly, by reflex] Ha, ha.
The following examples are taken from all types of literature, from ancient philosophical texts to contemporary novels, showing that dialogue has always been an integral feature of many different types of writing.
Dialogue in Shakespeare's Othello
In this scene from Othello , the dialogue serves an expository purpose, as the messenger enters to deliver news about the unfolding military campaign by the Ottomites against the city of Rhodes.
First Officer Here is more news. Enter a Messenger Messenger The Ottomites, reverend and gracious, Steering with due course towards the isle of Rhodes, Have there injointed them with an after fleet. First Senator Ay, so I thought. How many, as you guess? Messenger Of thirty sail: and now they do restem Their backward course, bearing with frank appearance Their purposes toward Cyprus. Signior Montano, Your trusty and most valiant servitor, With his free duty recommends you thus, And prays you to believe him.
Dialogue in Madeleine L'Engel's A Wrinkle in Time
From the classic children's book A Wrinkle in Time , here's a good example of dialogue that uses a description of a character's tone of voice instead of using unconventional verbiage to tag the line of dialogue. In other words, L'Engel doesn't follow Calvin's line of dialogue with a distracting tag like "Calvin barked." Rather, she simply states that his voice was unnaturally loud.
"I'm different, and I like being different." Calvin's voice was unnaturally loud. "Maybe I don't like being different," Meg said, "but I don't want to be like everybody else, either."
It's also worth noting that this dialogue helps characterize Calvin as a misfit who embraces his difference from others, and Meg as someone who is concerned with fitting in.
Dialogue in A Visit From the Good Squad
This passage from Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Good Squad doesn't use dialogue tags at all. In this exchange between Alex and the unnamed woman, it's always clear who's speaking even though most of the lines of dialogue are not explicitly attributed to a speaker using tags like "he said."
Alex turns to the woman. “Where did this happen?” “In the ladies’ room. I think.” “Who else was there?” “No one.” “It was empty?” “There might have been someone, but I didn’t see her.” Alex swung around to Sasha. “You were just in the bathroom,” he said. “Did you see anyone?”
Elsewhere in the book, Egan peppers her dialogue with colloquialisms and slang to help with characterization . Here, the washed-up, alcoholic rock star Bosco says:
"I want interviews, features, you name it," Bosco went on. "Fill up my life with that shit. Let's document every fucking humiliation. This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?"
In this passage, Bosco's speech is littered with colloquialisms, including profanity and his use of the word "guts" to describe his liver, establishing him as a character with a unique way of speaking.
Dialogue in Plato's Meno
The following passage is excerpted from a dialogue by Plato titled Meno. This text is one of the more well-known Socratic dialogues. The two characters speaking are Socrates (abbreviated, "Soc.") and Meno (abbreviated, "Men."). They're exploring the subject of virtue together.
Soc. Now, if there be any sort-of good which is distinct from knowledge, virtue may be that good; but if knowledge embraces all good, then we shall be right in think in that virtue is knowledge? Men. True. Soc. And virtue makes us good? Men. Yes. Soc. And if we are good, then we are profitable; for all good things are profitable? Men. Yes. Soc. Then virtue is profitable? Men. That is the only inference.
Indirect Dialogue in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried
This passage from O'Brien's The Things They Carried exemplifies the use of indirect dialogue to summarize a conversation. Here, the third-person narrator tells how Kiowa recounts the death of a soldier named Ted Lavender. Notice how the summary of the dialogue is interwoven with the rest of the narrative.
They marched until dusk, then dug their holes, and that night Kiowa kept explaining how you had to be there, how fast it was, how the poor guy just dropped like so much concrete. Boom-down, he said. Like cement.
O'Brien takes liberties in his use of quotation marks and dialogue tags, making it difficult at times to distinguish between the voices of different speakers and the voice of the narrator. In the following passage, for instance, it's unclear who is the speaker of the final sentence:
The cheekbone was gone. Oh shit, Rat Kiley said, the guy's dead. The guy's dead, he kept saying, which seemed profound—the guy's dead. I mean really.
Why Do Writers Use Dialogue in Literature?
Most writers use dialogue simply because there is more than one character in their story, and dialogue is a major part of how the plot progresses and characters interact. But in addition to the fact that dialogue is virtually a necessary component of fiction, theater, and film, writers use dialogue in their work because:
- It aids in characterization , helping to flesh out the various characters and make them feel lifelike and individual.
- It is a useful tool of exposition , since it can help convey key information abut the world of the story and its characters.
- It moves the plot along. Whether it takes the form of an argument, an admission of love, or the delivery of an important piece of news, the information conveyed through dialogue is often essential not only to readers' understanding of what's going on, but to generating the action that furthers the story's plot line.
Other Helpful Dialogue Resources
- The Wikipedia Page on Dialogue: A bare-bones explanation of dialogue in writing, with one or two examples.
- The Dictionary Definition of Dialogue: A basic definition, with a bit on the etymology of the word (it comes from the Greek meaning "through discourse."
- Cinefix's video with their take on the 14 best dialogues of all time : A smart overview of what dialogue can accomplish in film.
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- Dialogue Writing
What is Dialogue Writing?
If you want to write a story, dialogues are a very important part of the story. Writing a good dialogue requires a set of rules to follow because a bad dialogue can change the story and the dialogue’s meaning as well. Dialogue writing is a very important part of English writing.
Dialogue is basically a conversation between two or more people. In fiction, it is a verbal conversation between two or more conversations. Sometimes it is a self-talking dialogue, they are known as a Monolog.
If the dialogue is bad the reader will put the book down. Without effective dialogues, the whole plot of the story will collapse on its own structure. Therefore, writing dialogue in a way that attracts the reader to be more involved in the story is not a daunting task. We will guide you to write impactful dialogue with correct rules.
Points to be Remember
1. The students need to read the preceding and the following dialogues.
2. They must understand the topic well and make points.
3. The tenses should be accurate according to the dialogue.
4. It should seem like a natural conversation.
5. The words used should not be vague and should convey the message.
Tips to Write Dialogue
Speak out the Dialogue loudly as it will help you resonate on your own dialogue and make you understand how it will sound to the reader.
Keep your dialogue brief and impactful as adding extra details will only deviate the reader’s mind from the main point.
Give each character a unique way of talking or voice. It will add an extra character trait and readers can identify the character just by reading his dialogue.
While writing the dialogue always remember whom the dialogue is being addressed to.
Dialogues should not be lengthy and confusing for the readers as through the dialogue only the story moves.
Format of Dialogue Writing
New Paragraph for Every Speaker
Every speaker gets a new paragraph. Each time a speaker says something, you have to put in a fresh paragraph, even if it is just one word.
Punctuations Come under Quotation Marks
All the punctuations used with dialogue must be put under the quotes.
Remove End Quote if the Paragraph is Long
If the paragraph of dialogue is too long and you need to change the paragraph, then there is no need to put end quotes.
Dialogue tags i.e. He says/she says are always written outside the dialogue and is separated by a comma. When dialogue ends in a question or exclamation mark, tags that follow start in lower case.
For eg- He says, “We should start our own business.”
Use Single Quotation Mark to Quote Something with a Dialogue
If you have to quote something within a dialogue we should put single quotes as double quotes are already enclosing the main dialogue.
For eg- Bill shouted, “ ‘boo!’ you lost the game.
The Dialogue Ends with an Ellipsis
If the Dialogue ends with an ellipsis, we should not add a comma or any other punctuation. For eg- She stared at the sunset. “I guess you’ll go back to doing what you do and I will…” her voice drifted off.
1. Write a Dialogue between You and Your Teacher about which Course to Study at Vacations.
Child- Good Morning Sir, how are you?
Teacher- I am completely fine. What about you?
Student- I was wondering which course to learn in my vacation.
Teacher- It can be confusing with so many options online. You should make a list and narrow it down as per your interest.
Student- I have tried that but still I am left with three options- Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning or Data science.
Teacher- Well! All of them are very interesting courses, but as far as I remember you have always been interested in Artificial Intelligence.
Student- Yes! I do because I feel it is our future.
Teacher- Well then its no harm in pursuing it and later if you find it less interesting you can always switch.
Student- Yes it sounds like a great idea. Thanks!
2. Complete the following Dialogues-
Megha calls up Rajat to make a plan for New years. Complete the dialogue between Megha and Rajat by filling in the gaps.
Megha : (i) ………………….. this New year?
Rajat: I don’t have any plans.
Megha: How do you like the idea (ii) …………………. the Sapna’s party?
Rajat: That sounds fantastic, But I (iii) ………………….my parent’s permission.
Megha: I’ll come to your house this evening and request your parents to allow you to join me to go to a party.
Megha : (iv) …………………….. in the evening?
Rajat: Yes. They will be at home.
Rohit: Then I’ll surely come.
Basic Rules for Discussion All Writers Should Follow
Here are some basic rules for writing a conversation:
Each speaker receives a new category - Every time someone speaks, he shows this by creating a new category. Yes, even if your characters say only one word, they get new categories.
Each category has an indent - The only exception to this is at the beginning of the chapter or after the break, where the first line has not been postponed, including the discussion.
The punctuation marks are inserted into the quotes - Whenever punctuation is part of the spoken word, it enters the quotation marks so that the reader can know how the dialogue is spoken.
Long sentences with few paragraphs do not have end quotations - You’ll see a lot of this below, but overall, when one character speaks for a long time with different categories, the quotation marks are eventually removed, but you start the next paragraph with them.
Use singular quotes when a speaker quotes another - If a character is present who says, “Rohan, do you like it when girls say,‘ I’m fine ’?”, One quote shows what someone else said.
Skip the small talk and focus on the important information only - Unless that little talk is accompanied by character development, skip and get to the point, this is not real life and you will feel very liable if you have too much.
FAQs on Dialogue Writing
1. Can we write dialogues without Quotes?
No, a quotation mark is very important as it distinguishes between the rest of the text and dialogues. The characters who speak the dialogues are an important source of the quotes because of which we are required to put quotes in the dialogues. Quotations add life to the dialogues by making them more realistic and genuine. It ensures that the interpersonal skills of the people using dialogues is improved. It is an interpersonal discourse with members of your society or your house.
2. What are Dialog Tags?
Dialogue tags are the phrases like, “he said”, “She said'', they attribute the speaker to the dialogue so that the reader always knows who is speaking the dialogue. Dialogue tags are the short lines in a sentence that are used to identify the speaker. The main function of a Dialogue tag in dialogue writing is for identifying who is speaking. The Vedantu website provides all the guidelines as to how the dialogue writing must be planned. Until you use a proper noun, the dialogue tag will not be capitalized. You have to end the dialogue with punctuation marks inside quotes.
3. What is Ellipsis in a dialogue?
Three dots are used at the end of the sentence to show that something has been omitted. Using ellipses in dialogues is done to indicate a disruption at the end of a line of dialogue. The general rule of adding ellipses at the end of dialogue or line is to indicate that a speaker faltered before completing his or her statement. Ellipses are the most passive-aggressive of all the punctuation marks as when they are used in casual conversation, ellipses connote hesitation, confusion, and apathy.
4. What is the Purpose of Dialogue writing?
Dialogues are referred to as the conversations between two or more characters and it’s called a monolog if there is only one character speaking which is sometimes used in plays. There are several factors on which the character speaking depends.
Where they live
The period in which they live
The dialogue should move the story forward. It may increase suspense, show readers a trait(s) of the character(s), and/or change the situation or conflict the characters are in.
5. Why choose Vedantu to refer to the rules of dialogue writing?
Till now the students must have reviewed the entire website of Vedantu and also must have found the answers to whatever they must search for. Vedantu without any doubt is the best website as it provides comprehensive solutions to all the doubts of the students. The experts at Vedantu are not only providing concepts related to the base building of the students but also are giving the students the ability and urge to read and write more. Hence, the students are highly recommended to use Vedantu.
Formal Conversation in English (with Examples)
Language is a part of your professional image. Learn the basics of formal conversation to make sure your professionalism won't be questioned.
How to Run a Formal Conversation
Additional tips, the bottom line.
You have probably noticed that there are many things in English which you can separate into casual and formal: clothing, events, and even relationships. Conversations are no exception. Every English learner should master different communication styles with other people to be able to hold conversations of different levels of importance.
You need to keep proper expressions in mind to be able to use them depending on the situation. Sometimes, a simple phrase - just a few words - can turn the conversation in a completely different direction. Choosing the right words at the right time will allow you to show yourself as a professional at all times.
Below, you will find a step-by-step guide to maintaining a formal conversation in English, along with helpful tips. Let's begin!
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Any conversation begins with a greeting. Formal greetings in English are appropriate when you communicate with colleagues, business partners, as well as people you meet for the first time. When meeting new people, you need to find out the person's name, give your name in response, and say that you are pleased to meet him.
Here is a set of phrases for a formal greeting:
- Hello! How have you been?
- Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening!
- I am glad to see you. / I am happy to see you. / I am pleased to see you.
- Good to see you again. / Nice to see you again.
- My name is Sarah. It is a pleasure to meet you! What is your name?
Possible responses to the formal greeting:
- Fine, thanks, and you? / Fine, thanks, what about yourself?
- Very well, thanks. / Pretty good, thanks.
Make sure to check our post about the difference between "How are you?" and "How are you doing?" to find out which one is suitable for the business environment and which one to use in less formal settings.
If you did not hear what the other person said, ask them to repeat using one of the phrases :
- Could you repeat, please?
After you have greeted the person, you need to continue the conversation . When talking to a friend, you are likely to quickly find a topic of conversation. However, if you have just met a person at an official event, it is necessary to establish contact between you and your new acquaintance .
We've already discussed the basic rules for running a small talk in the previous article . Although they refer to more casual chatting, they are also applicable to a given setting, so make sure to check them as well. At a formal event (contrasting small talk or everyday conversations), you can use the following phrases to start a formal English conversation:
- I've heard so much about you.
- How do you like the conference/workshop? / Is it your first time at the conference/workshop?
- So, you work in PR, right? / Have you always been in PR? / How long have you been working for this firm?
- I am from Greece. And you?
- How do you like it here? / How long have you been here?
- How are you? How are you doing? How are things? How have you been? How's your day going so far? How's it going?
- This is my first visit to London. What do you recommend visiting while I am here?
Phrases to Express Your Opinion
Once you have the person’s attention, it is important to be able to keep the conversation going . Most likely, your new acquaintance will ask a question or will be interested in your point of view on a topic. To answer them, you need to know how to express your opinion in a polite manner .
Here are several phases suitable for both formal and casual conversation:
- In my opinion... / In my experience...
- The way I see it... / From my point of view...
- It seems to me that... / To my mind... / What I mean is...
- As far as I'm concerned...
- To tell the truth... / Frankly speaking...
- If you ask me... / Personally, I think... /Speaking for myself...
- I'd say that... / I'd suggest that... / I'd like to point out that...
- I believe that... / I guess that...
- My opinion is that... / I hold the opinion that...
- It goes without saying that...
At an official event, try to formulate your thoughts more carefully and less emotionally than when communicating with friends. For example:
- It is thought that… / It is considered...
- Some people say that...
- It is generally accepted that...
Phrases to Express Agreement or Disagreement
First of all, let's figure out how you can agree with someone in English . All the phrases listed below are appropriate in both formal and informal settings. They are neutral: if you are at a business event or a meeting, say them in a calm tone, and at a party with friends, you can get a little bit emotional.
Choose a phrase to agree with the person in a proper way:
- I agree with you entirely. / I totally agree with you. / I agree with you one hundred percent. / I couldn't agree more.
- You're absolutely right.
- Absolutely. / Exactly. / No doubt about it.
- I suppose so. / I guess so.
- I was just going to say that. / This is exactly what I think.
- I am of the same opinion.
When you want to express disagreement in a professional context, you need to be very polite to avoid offending the other person , especially if you have just met them or are at an official event. We recommend using the following expressions of disagreement in a formal English conversation:
- I'm afraid I have to disagree. / I beg to differ. / That's not really how I see it, I'm afraid. / I'm sorry to disagree with you, but...
- Yes, but don't you think... / I agree to some extent but... / On the whole, I agree with you but... / True enough but...
- Not necessarily. / On the contrary... / The problem is that... / I doubt whether...
- No, I am not so sure about that. / No, I disagree. What about... / I am of a different opinion because...
- With all due respect...
- I see what you mean but have you thought about... / I hear what you are saying but... / I see your point but...
How to (Politely) Interrupt a Person Speaking
Interrupting someone without offending them is a real skill. Of course, it is important to note that you should not interrupt the speaker and wait until they are finished to express your opinion .
However, if it's necessary to intervene in the conversation, make sure to say "Excuse me!" first and then use one of the following examples:
- Excuse me for interrupting, but… / I apologize for interrupting... / Sorry to interrupt, but...
- Can I add/say something here? / If I might add something... / Can I just mention something?
- Do you mind if I come in here? / Before you move on, I'd like to say something.
After you have expressed your opinion, do not forget to pass the word back to the person . To do this, you can say:
- Sorry, go ahead. / Sorry, you were saying...
How to Say Goodbye Formally
After the conversation, you need to say goodbye to your new acquaintance . Of course, the standard " Goodbye! " is suitable for almost any given setting. However, you can say goodbye with other phrases as well. Here is a list of expressions for ending a formal conversation in English:
- Have a good day/good night!
- I look forward to our next meeting.
- It was nice to see/meet you.
As you already know, the formal style is used in an official setting - when communicating at conferences and presentations, conducting business negotiations , writing documents, corporate emails, scientific articles.
You should follow several rules to make the speech sound formal:
Avoid Using Contractions
In formal writing, there is no place for contractions like I'm, I'd, I don't. Instead, use the complete forms of the words : I am, I would, I do not. Moreover, the use of contractions is one of the primary reasons for the most common misspellings - for example, confusing " their " and " they're ."
Misspellings can hurt the initial meaning of a sentence and make you look unprofessional. For example, let's take a closer look at the go-to phrase " duly noted ," which means that something is recorded appropriately or taken into proper consideration. Its common misspellings include "dually noted," "dully noted," and "duelly noted."
" Dually " means a double capacity, while " dully " means something is done in a boring manner. When spelled correctly, you can use "duly noted" in a formal speech in the meaning of simple acknowledgment of an opinion or action. That's why you also don't want to confuse "duly" with "dully," letting someone know you barely consider what they're saying.
Moreover, "duly noted" can also be used sarcastically, meaning that something is heard and ignored rather than taken into appropriate consideration. It’s not necessarily a rude phrase, but you should pay close attention to the context in which you use the phrase "duly noted."
Avoid Using Slang and Phrasal Verbs
When holding a formal conversation, there are a few things you should avoid to make it sound appropriate. Some of these things include:
- Avoiding slang and colloquial expressions . This point is pretty obvious: it is difficult to imagine a business partner who calls you "bro."If you want to ask how the representative of the partner company is doing, it is unlikely that you will say, "What's up?" And in response, you will not receive the colloquial "Yourself?" but a polite "Thank you, very well."
- Avoiding phrasal verbs . Phrasal verbs should be replaced by regular ones. For example, in an official setting, you are unlikely to hear "the inflation rate went up ." Instead, it would be better to say "the inflation rate increased ." In addition, avoiding phrasal verbs reduces your chances of making mistakes because they can be very confusing for non-native speakers.
Use the Passive Voice
The formal English language uses not only long phrases but also complex grammatical constructions . If you have started to express an idea, make sure to develop it, support it with clear arguments, justify it and bring it to a conclusion .
In addition, formal emails and oral speech allow you to use the passive voice much more often than in casual conversation, as it is more suitable for an official setting. The reason is that the active voice personifies speech, while the passive voice has a more formal connotation , compare:
- You are invited to the conference.
- We invite you to the conference.
As you can see, the first option sounds more discreet and respectful. If you want to speak formally, do not forget to use complex sentence structures (for example, independent clause + at least one adverbial phrase), participial phrases, conditional sentences, etc.
Use Special Terminology
Each industry has its own specifics, so try to use the appropriate jargon or vocabulary. For example, if you work for an accounting firm and check the financial statements of a business, it would be appropriate to say " audit " instead of " check ."
Try to use the specific industry-related words in an official setting and business correspondence - your English speaking skills will not only benefit from this, the person you’re speaking to will also be pleasantly surprised.
Avoid Speaking for Yourself
If you are writing a business letter or conducting business negotiations, try to avoid expressions such as " I think " and " in my opinion ." As a rule, you should speak on behalf of the company you work for - talk less about yourself, your personal opinion, and contact business partners as a representative of the company.
Here are the example sentences:
- We are pleased to receive your offer. Can we discuss this in further detail?
- It's a contribution duly noted by the board of directors, and we are looking forward to taking our partnership to the next level.
- If you need any additional information, do not hesitate to contact us .
Be Discreet and Inclusive
Last but not least. Formal speech is an example of ethical, respectful, and inclusive communication . Choose your words carefully to avoid offending the people you’re addressing. To write and speak inclusively, make sure to follow these principles:
- Use gender-neutral language and pronouns, such as the singular "they."
- Avoid gendered group language, such as "you guys."
- Avoid stereotyping and making neither positive nor negative generalizations.
- Avoid making assumptions regarding anyone’s sexuality or relationship status.
- Avoid outdated language .
- If you're not sure about something, ask!
As you can see, to maintain a formal conversation in the English language, you need to learn some common phrases that will help you start a conversation and you’ll need to be careful with your choice of words. Fortunately, you don't have to memorize all the examples mentioned in this article - you can revisit it as frequently as you need to.
Furthermore, with practice, you will learn a lot of additional expressions from native English speakers and boost your English vocabulary.
If you're interested in expanding your vocabulary and picking proper phrasing, you can download our Langster app . It is full of bite-sized stories with grammar explanations for each, which will allow you to enjoy your English learning experience even more. See for yourself:
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Sentence Construction in English: the Basics
What Is the Difference Between Your and You're: Possessive Pronouns and Contractions
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