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Writing Realistic Dialogue!

How to write dialogue in your novel.

Writing realistic dialogue entertains the reader and keeps them engaged.

Dialogue can be tricky. You have to make it realistic, move the plot forward, and reveal secrets and backstories.

But the most important and most difficult to avoid is overusing ‘said’ and ‘asked,'

without tags like 'interjected,' 'questioned,' 'explained,' ...

How is this possible? Action beats, character-specific sayings, and habits.

What are Action Beats?

Characters perform an action to indicate who is talking.

Jemma picked up the book. Alex held out her hand. Brandon chuckled.

All of these are action beats that can be used either right before or after one of them speaks.

Jemma picked up the book. "What's this about?"

"It's nothing." Alex held out her hand.

Brandon chuckled. "It's a romance novel. She can't get enough of them."

In this exchange, no dialogue tags were necessary.

But having this type of conversation can get repetitive quickly.

So, mixing it up can be great.

Jemma picked up the book. “What’s this about?”

“It’s nothing,” Alex said, holding out her hand.

Brandon chuckled. “It’s a romance novel. She can’t get enough of them.”

Character-Specific Sayings and Patterns

Realistic dialogue also involves what real people would say and how they say it.

You can use regional dialects, phrases or words only for specific characters. And don’t be afraid to use partial sentences.

Someone from Scotland might say ‘lad,’ while someone from America would use ‘boy.’ This can be great for showing the reader who is speaking without needing a dialogue tag as well!

A shy or uncertain character can say, “Well, I don’t know. I mean …well, I just don’t know.” While this is how some people talk, it can feel repetitive to the reader. So, establishing this early for a character, then limiting them using it throughout the novel, helps.

Later they could simply say, “Well, I don’t know,” and the reader will know who is speaking because you have established there is only one character who speaks like this, and they are in the room.

Often, almost always, we use abridged sentences.

“Ready to party?”

“Don’t feel like it.”

“Everybody’s going.”

“Don’t do what everyone else does.”

“Geesh. Just asking.”

This conversation could benefit from some action beats, right?


While habits sort of fall under the action beats, what habits do is set up who is talking and the emotion behind what’s said.

Habits should be set up early as well, but some of that depends on the situation you put them in.

One character could scratch their chin while pondering and another rub their forehead.

Known to the reader, Ashlyn, Tom, and Lexi are in this scene.

He lifted his head and scratched his chin. “What are we going to do?”

“I’ve run out of ideas,” she said, rubbing her forehead with two fingers.

He pressed his palms to his knees and stood. “I need to think. Alone.”

As she watched him stomp away, his footsteps echoed through the dank cave.

“What’s up with him?” Lexi asked, a little edge to her voice.

You’re his best friend. How do you not know his family was killed in the attack?”

Even stressing a word can help with showing emotions behind what is spoken.

Take Your Time.

Writing dialogue takes practice and revisions before it’s realistic enough for the reader to believe it’s a real conversation.

Hey, writing isn’t easy. It’s tough. Each element of writing builds on the next to create a believable, entertaining, outstanding book.

If you are stuck on dialogue or anything else, please send me a message using the contact form.

For advice on editing, writing, and publishing, sign up for my newsletter. I only send one or two per month, but they are filled with tips and tricks.

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