Sometimes it’s a challenge to write good dialogue. Your character’s conversations might sound stiff or unnatural, but why does that happen? If you’re wondering about this same question, it could be time to make your dialogue stronger by trying something new.
There are numerous reasons why your dialogue isn’t great as you’d like. It might mean you just need more practice, but it could also mean you need a deep dive into a new craft perspective.
Check out these tips to make your dialogue stronger and become a better writer with each story.
1. Skip the Small Talk
When you walk into the same room as someone, like at work or in the morning at school, you likely engage in small talk.
How are you?
Good, how are you?
I’m fine for a Monday morning.
It’s an instinct we’re all trained to have, but it makes for extremely boring conversations in books. Unless your small-talk scene occurs in a moment of extreme tension (like if neither character trusts the other or someone’s listening in on their conversation), you can likely skip that part of the dialogue.
2. Say It Out Loud
Sometimes it’s helpful to say your words out loud while you write. Dialogue or no dialogue, you’re more likely to catch awkward moments or stiff phrasing. Unless you prefer to write in a library, try this with your story. You may recognize unintentional repetition or repeated sentence structures that make your dialogue unnatural.
3. Remember Your Character’s Motivations
Think about the last real-world conversation you had with someone. The last one I had was pleasant and laid-back, but my motivation during it was finding out what was secretly bothering my friend. I wanted to help them feel better.
Your characters will have motivations in their dialogue too. If a scene feels off, it might be because what they’re saying doesn’t have any intention behind it. Think about what your characters want as their ultimate goal and how that conversation is helping them get there.
Layering their motivations into conversations with tension, word choice, and even body language could eliminate whatever feels unnatural about some of your dialogue.
4. Find the Scene’s Emotional Tether
Dialogue is also how writers address a scene’s emotional ties. If two characters just went through something scary, the dialogue lets them vent their panic and potentially find comfort in the trust they share.
Consider what you want your readers to feel from the scene and what your characters are feeling. Express it with what they say to make their conversation more grounded in reality.
5. Read the Scene Aloud
If you’ve already written the scene, you can still read it out loud. It’s even better if you have a friend or beta reader around to read a second character’s lines. When you hear what the characters are saying, the word choices or dialogue breaks that aren’t working will become extremely clear.
6. Copy and Paste the Dialogue
Sometimes you can’t read things out loud. Sometimes you may not want to.
Luckily, AI can help with that.
I’ve used a few AI-powered websites to read my stories back to me in voices that sound real. Unlike other text-to-speech readers, human-sounding voices are easier to pay attention to.
Some of my favorites are sites like these:
Some sites will read more than others before requiring a paid membership. Use a few to listen through your stories and pick out whatever isn’t working.
7. Give Yourself a Break
It’s tempting to push yourself through a story until it’s finished. Writers often feel like they aren’t real authors unless the stories flow from their fingertips constantly.
Remember that you’re human. When you’re writing you’re using at least eight parts of your brain, plus you’re building new neural connections. That’s tons of work for your brain. When you hit parts of your story that feel weaker or clunky—dialogue or not—it could be because your mind needs to rest.
Don’t underestimate the power of giving yourself a break. Walk away from your story for a few hours or even a few days. Nourish your mental health with a few positive affirmations, some fresh air, and healthy foods. You’ll return to your story with renewed energy that makes it easier to refine your dialogue.
8. Get Messy to Get Better
We’ve all been there. You’re writing a scene or story that means something deeply personal, so you want to get it just right. The desire to strive for perfection is admirable, but it might be holding you back.
Write those incomplete sentences. Embrace your clunky dialogue. Make your characters say things they don’t mean or argue or goof around in happier moments.
If you never make mistakes, you’ll never learn how to improve. Get messy and have fun doing it. You’ll always have time to polish things or add more to scenes when you’re editing later.
Make Your Dialogue Stronger
Dialogue can be challenging, but that means it’s also an opportunity to grow. Try these tricks to get better at creating conversations, even if you consider yourself a long-term, practiced writer.