The more I write, the more I find I enjoy writing dialogue. The interplay of characters can be really engaging and tends to liven up the story — and the writing process — for me.
However, it can still be a challenge to write dialogue that is both meaningful and compelling. As a reader, dialogue that drones on is somehow worse than long stretches of exposition. So I just wanted to provide a few tips for writing snappy dialogue that moves the story forward and keeps the reader interested.
#1 – Have an argument in your head, then write it out.
Do you ever hear something that irks you, and five hours later you’ll think of the perfect comeback for it? Do you ever play out entire arguments in your head — usually in the shower?
These scenes we think up are usually not full of paragraphs-long diatribes. They’re concise statements punctuated by thought-provoking ideas.
Try writing a scene of dialogue in this manner. Even if the characters are not angry or being directly abrasive with each other, use a back-and-forth dialogue to keep the scene moving forward. Think about the way a character might disagree with or take exception to something someone else says to them.
This type of banter does not have to be malicious, and it does not have to lead to a real argument or larger conflict. It just lets the characters feel more real and flawed.
#2 – Don’t get lost in your character’s head.
There is definitely a time and a place for delving into what your character is thinking or how they are feeling. Even during a dialogue scene, this type of inner monologuing can reveal a lot about your character and how they interact with the world around them.
But it tends to drag out a scene. If you want to write dialogue that doesn’t feel prolonged by strange pauses, drop the monologue.
Let your character react through their words. Don’t give them time to think about it. Just speak their mind, even if they’re just saying… What?
#3 – Use brief body language descriptors.
Body language can be just as effective at conveying emotion during a dialogue scene as the actual dialogue. Maybe your character is not as reactive as others, but they have a particular gesture that lets everyone know they’re annoyed, or embarrassed, or even just thinking through things.
You don’t want to spend 50 words describing every movement, but a single clause of a gesture can speak volumes as to the mood of the character. Looking at you, Wheel of Time: “She tugged on her braid.”
Time and Place for Snappiness
Snappy dialogue is not always the right answer. Sometimes, an intimate conversation between two people needs room to breathe. The characters and the reader need to absorb the moment to really feel the weight of the scene, and fast-moving dialogue will only feel rushed.
But when you want to show a microcosm of conflict, or push the scene forward efficiently, or just demonstrate how two characters interact, snappy dialogue can do the trick.