Writer’s Corner: Writing Dialogue

Alyson Lyon

By Alyson Lyon

Illustrating a story with finely-crafted dialogue gives the reader detail and insight into the characters and their world. Great dialogue is specific, real and moves the story along. Successful use of this writing tool can make a story soar.

When writing dialogue specifically for creative non-fiction, there are inherent liberties. The writer is going to discern what needs to be included and omitted in the interest of the story. Though the story may be “true”, the dialogue is often highly-condensed, punched up and slightly-fictionalized in order to fully support the story.

Here are some tips for writing stellar creative non-fiction dialogue:

1. Listen

Spend time listening to how people really talk. What is the difference between the way the Economics professor from the University of Chicago speaks and your boss at the meat packing plant? Word choice, colloquialisms, patterns and rhythms are available to us  if we only lend an ear. Make specific and accurate choices and your characters will pop off the page.

2. Keep it brief

Most people don’t speak in long, drawn-out monologues. It just isn’t natural. However, if you find yourself needing to write a chunk of dialogue, it can be broken up with action or thought. This is an instance where the rhythm of your writing can really shine; balance brief and specific dialogue with effective description and insight.

3.  Read it aloud

Reading your dialogue aloud can give you instant insight into whether it’s working or not. Is it something you could hear someone say?  Furthermore, it will help you discern  whether or not you need one of those pesky dialogue tags (i.e. he said, she screamed, etc). Often times, it’s not until we read it aloud that we see whether or not it’s clear who’s speaking.

Dialogue requires a musical sensibility, an attention to the ear and an understanding of how that relates to the character being described. Fiction or non-fiction, the same guidelines apply; dialogue should add authenticity to the story.

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