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  • Writer's pictureS.E. Reed

Real Dialogue for Real People

What is real dialogue? Well, it's conversations between characters that feels real. Natural. Engaging. It's common language that's enjoyable to read.

So, what's the opposite of real dialogue? Well, think of it as those forced conversations, the ones dragging on in a scene. The writer takes too long to just spit it out! Or not enough time or doesn't include the surrounding visuals to make it feel like it would in real life.

Which means the characters lose your interest, eventually making you put down the book entirely.

"It's a writers worst nightmare!"

Especially a writer who is heavy on the dialogue. My own writing is very conversation driven. I think it's because I enjoy talking in general. I'm quick to make a phone call instead of sending a text. I also believe it makes my characters feel more real and alive-- by giving them a voice I'm giving them the ability to tell their own story.

Not that your characters can't use text or email or letters to show their voice. That's a writing tactic I have frequently used and found successful. However, the real back-and-forth conversations need to be believable!

When writing a character's voice, I like to imagine what they sound like. I can close my eyes and hear them talking. The urgency, their accent, the tone and intonation all play into how I will write their dialogue.

When you are writing, you'll start discovering your own character's voices, their laughter, the pace at which they speak. It can be an exciting moment for any writer to feel like you've really nailed it when it comes to a character's voice. You might even find yourself reciting the bits aloud and using the varying voices to see if the dialogue fits.

If you struggle with writing dialogue, I'd suggest some people watching and participating in conversations. Take notes and write down what you hear. I'm fortunate enough to have inspiration right here at home. Most of my work is YA contemporary, fantasy and horror.

I have a 13 year old daughter in middle school. She is crazy! She talks and texts and laughs and screams all the time. She says things that are a YA fiction writers dream! I get a ton of mind blowing quotes from her and learn exactly how teenagers talk.

Writing Time! Real dialogue between real people (me and my 13 year old).

Maggie saunters out of her bedroom. She's dressed in pajamas again, like summer vacation has a dress code. "Is dinner done?" She moans.

"Are you eating yet?" I ask sarcastically, barely glancing up from my computer.

Maggie flops on our faded couch. "Huh? No-- I mean, I dunno."

"Exactly. Now go check the timer on the oven," I reply.

"Ugghhhh. But you're closer," she whines.

I close my laptop and get up. "Come on, you can help me chop the salad." I pull my lazy bones child off the couch and drag her into the kitchen.


Okay, so that might not have been the most glamorous example of writing dialogue, but it was real! Now-- let me give you the same version, without some of the "realness" so you can see the difference.

"Is dinner ready?" Maggie asks.

"Are you eating?" I ask.

"Huh? No, I don't know." She says.

"Exactly. Now go check the timer on the oven," I reply.

"Ugh. But you are closer."

"Come on, you can chop the salad," I tell her.

Can you see and feel and hear the difference? Version one is a glimpse at a real conversation between a mother and daughter. Version two sounds robotic, it lacks the flow that exists in normal everyday speak. Plus, there's no additional descriptions to enhance the conversation. Without those descriptions it can be difficult for the reader to visualize and become engaged in your scene.

Ultimately, you'll learn how to write real dialogue for real people. It just takes practice and great listening skills!


S.E. Reed

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