5 Ways To Write Real-Speak Dialogue

book quotesDialogue is a strange part of writing fiction. On one hand, it’s supposed to sound like real people, but on the other hand it’s supposed to advance plot. How is it supposed to do so many things?


1. Use dialogue to show the relationships between characters.

Are they close? Make sure they share information that they’d tell no one else, or they gossip about other people. Don’t forget to have them use affectionate nicknames that show a history.

2. Avoid routine exchanges in real life conversation in exchange for the most interesting thing.

We all know the boring conversations we have throughout the day. Writing fiction means you get to avoid those mundane conversations and replace them with the most interesting things. Whenever you have your characters talk about their day stop yourself to make sure that there’s a larger point being made.

3. Go no longer than 3 sentences without an interjection. 

There’s nothing that sounds like dialogue more than 200 words of monologue. The reader can sense that a mile away. Cue the moment the writer wants to say something important: a long-winded monologue. Dialogue should be no longer than 3 sentences without something or someone cutting them off.

4. Make sure your character sounds like themselves and not you.

First time writers have a habit of making all the characters sound like themselves. Avoid this by making sure they sound like who you created, not the voice in your head.

5. Add in run on sentences and clipped words.

Dialogue ends up being a bit more formal than we speak in real life. However, don’t forget to add run on sentences and clip words so the reader feels like these are real people having real conversations.

Q: What do you think is the hardest part of writing dialogue? (I know there’s many!)

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

11 thoughts on “5 Ways To Write Real-Speak Dialogue

  1. Reblogged this on Ottawa Writes and commented:
    From Carly Watters, Literary Agent.

    My added tip: Have conversations in your head as you imagine past situations. I do it all the time, and sometimes vocally aloud respond (cause when I day dream, I day dream HARD). No, I’m not crazy. I’m a writer. We have vivid imaginations, right? . . . Right? Also, twitter conversations teach you how to be expressive and keep it short – like a real, live convo. It’s good practise ground.


  2. The challenge I keep running into is that I channel a certain character who uses “just” actually” and “well” a lot. It sounds right when I’m writing it, but when I reread it a few weeks later it sounds disjointed and unnecessarily wordy.


  3. For me, the hardest part of writing dialogue is including the people’s actions as they speak — all the body language, the way they are physically positioned in relation to each other, facial expressions, etc. I sometimes concentrate so much on the words that I don’t include other parts of the conflict/communication going on in the scene. On re-reading it, it always seems glaringly “dialogue-y” until I think those things through.


  4. As writers we learn to read critically and one of the signs of a poor writer, in my opinion, is long paragraphs of dialogue. In a real life animated conversation (and if it’s not animated, why is the author including it?) the other person can’t wait to reply and will often interrupt to do so. I’ve taken to judiciously putting a double dash at the end of occasional lines of dialogue to signal that this speaker didn’t get to finish what he had to say before the other person jumped in. It seems to work quite well.


  5. I see a lot of writers info-dumping in their dialogue, and it always takes me out of the piece. Just this morning I read a line that went something like “and just what you are doing out at 9:00 A.M. on Saturday morning?” Okay, the writer wanted to establish time, but who talks like that? Maybe a few people, but that just feels like lazy writing to me. When a writer throws me an “as you know,” I’m done with it.


  6. What are your thoughts on having dialog embedded in paragraphs rather than standing alone? My manuscript is not dialog heavy and it looked funny/choppy when I put the dialog on separate lines.


  7. Thank you for this. I really hate dialog tags. They are necessary at times, but boring Sometimes I have a hard time knowing when the reader needs them. I also get confused as to paragraphing when thoughts and actions of characters mix in. Hard stuff when you think about it, and I expect my 10 year olds to do it!!


  8. Dialogue for me is about cadence, intonation, and verbal tics and it is challenging to create/construct. The first time one of my characters “needed” to speak, my immediate response was, “No! I do not know how to write dialogue.” The hitch though was that the story could not progress without her voice. After a year or so of much reading, I had figured out the basics and was able to continue.

    Writing dialogue for the opposite sex is also a challenge. Men do speak differently. I think the biggest difference is in the cadence. Not sure though. Still listening!


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