Writing Good Dialogue

One of the questions that comes up time and time again in my Intro to Creative Writing course is: how do I write good dialogue?

Truth is, dialogue ain’t easy. In fact, some writers find it the hardest part of writing. Why is that? Well, it could be that some writers get hung up on trying to mimic how people talk in real life. (That's...uh, never, like, a good idea, you know?) Or that they don’t understand the function of dialogue. Or that they’re just not sure what they want all those characters to actually say.

The important thing to remember about dialogue is that its main purpose is to create conflict. It’s not about your characters agreeing with one another (how boring would that be?) but rather, dialogue should be about your characters disagreeing with one another. Remember: you’re wading in the waters of fiction. Without a heavy dose of tension, your story falls flat and the reader loses interest. So think of dialogue as a boxing match. Whatever the conversation, someone has to walk away the winner. How that person wins the “match” is where your writerly skills can shine.

One last thing: don’t stress about how many times you use the word “said” when writing dialogue. Readers don’t pay attention to that word. They do, however, pay attention to the exclaims, the yells, the sobs and the sighs. And those kinds of words can take emphasis off what’s most important – what your characters are saying, rather than how they’re saying it.

Now...put your dukes up.