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Listen to your characters and use these six dialogue tips to advance your story

Writing dialogue is more than just putting words in your characters’ mouths. Try listening to your characters and find out what they have to say to tell the story. By using this practice of listening, you may find unexpected meaning and your story may go in surprising but satisfying directions.

Here are six tips for writing dialogue:

Show instead of tell. Craft dialogue that shows feelings instead of specifically stating how the characters feel. Whenever you start to use the word “felt,” stop and see how you can show that emotion through dialogue instead of telling the reader how your character felt. This showing technique will put the reader squarely in the action.

Advance the story’s meaning with descriptions of character movement and body language. Show how characters gesture, sit, stand or move around as they talk and how their body language mirrors inner emotions.

Don’t let your characters directly answer each others’ questions. A more indirect approach hints at the story below the surface and adds depth.

Show natural patterns of speech. People speak in rhythms and sometimes interrupt each other in conversation. Also, avoid speech that is too perfect or stilted. If you’re showing a range of emotions in dialogue, the speech patterns should match the emotion.

Know your characters’ speech style. Set characters apart in the reader’s mind by using unique vocabulary and speech patterns.

Make your dialogue fulfill multiple goals. Dialogue should advance the story and can do that by foreshadowing, creating suspense, and establishing the characters’ personalities.

For more dialogue writing ideas, read my previous post, Seven tips for designing meaningful dialogue and Carol’s post, Dialogue tips I learned from reading Elmore Leonard.

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