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For me, dialogue usually goes like "quote" she said, doing something.

I don't like it, and doing that for every time someone speaks is boring. So how do I add variation to it? I've tried putting in actions before the dialogue, but even that doesn't sound right.

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  • What's wrong with (s)he said? It gets the point across pretty effectively. Beware using vocabulary words for their own sake.
    – GordonM
    Nov 7 '17 at 15:43
  • @GordonM it's not an issue in itself. But when all of your dialogue has it, it can be repetitive and start distracting the reader when it's after every line of every dialogue. It's good to mix it up.
    – ggiaquin16
    Nov 7 '17 at 16:14
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Some times, dialogue doesn't even need any kind of narration attached to it. Saying he said, she said, after every line becomes tiresome to write and to read.

Interesting dialogue comes from an interesting conversation! Do your characters sound like Eyore? Or are they like Tigger? It may not be BAD to have a character with the personality of Eyore, but you want to change it up. Give each one of them something unique. A quirk, a slang, one be the serious guy while the other provides the comedy.

I hate to put it so bluntly but boring dialogue is due to boring characters. Try to put yourself into each character's head as you write and really get into their character. I recently just wrote a conversation in my book between 3 characters that took me most of the day to get only a couple of lines out. At first, every character sounded the same (and they probably still do to some degree). After reading it over, I inserted myself into that character and sat long and hard to imagine myself as their personality that I want. After that, my dialog became a lot better and lost the narrator's voice it originally had (I hope!).

So when push comes to shove, I would spend more time BEING that character. Actors do research on their roles for months. They take lessons, find activities, study any language if it is needed. It helps them to get into the role to know the ins and outs of the personality.

Try to look at some of your favorite books or characters. Think about some of your favorite quotes or dialogue from those books. What made them so great and memorable?

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It looks like you're already paying attention to your sentence structures. You can easily vary those:

"Blah blah," he said, doing something.

She did something else. "Blah blah."

"Blah blah blah."

"Blah," she said, "blah." She did another thing.

A couple other ways to keep your dialog from being boring:

Readers don't need to hear the entire conversation, from "Hello" to "Goodbye." You can place your characters in a setting and tell us what they're talking about, then introduce just the vital dialog, even if it's just a single line or two.

And only use dialog tags ("he said") when necessary. Their purpose is to tell us who's speaking when it's not otherwise obvious. So, when there are only two characters, you need less of them; when more, you need more.

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Listen to your dialogue.

What I mean by that is do whatever you need to in order to "hear" it. Read it out loud if you need to. I find that I have developed a lot of practice and I can actually "hear" it while typing. It's a matter of writing a lot.

Unlike anything else in your story, dialogue is not meant to be communicated silently as written words. That is, while it must be communicated that way, it is an imitation of sounds we make in order to communicate audibly. The very best thing you can do to make that seem more realistic is make it audible (or imagine it as sound if you can).

Listen to real conversations. Go the other way and visualize what you are hearing as written words with quotes around them. Pick out a random snatch of words from a conversation your mother in law is having with your wife on the back porch. Think about what that would look like on paper. Make your fictional dialogue imitate those sorts of patterns.

You will quickly realize that gaps, spaces, and silences communicate a whole lot in real speech. There are ways to indicate this on paper, like ellipses. In many cases, the thing that has the most impact in a bunch of dialogue is the pause, the silence, the hesitation in the middle of the words.

One of the most basic things I almost always do is tell the reader who is saying what only for the first couple lines of dialogue, then, if the conversation makes sense and the characters have a distinct enough "voice", it should be totally clear from context who is saying what. If your characters all sound the same, you have other problems. I'll usually go back and remind the reader who is saying what one more time after about 6 or so lines of dialogue, so I don't tax them too much. I don't want to make anything challenging, but I want to remove "Tommy Said" and "Said Mary" as much as I possibly can, because I think they look ugly on the page.

Listening is key to other aspects of your writing too. If you can mentally "listen" to the way your writing sounds, whether it is dialogue or not, it becomes much easier to write in a flowing, conversational way that will keep readers' attention. This helps all aspects of your style in general, so it is never a bad thing to read what you write out loud now and then.

I would also add that once you settle into a convention in a novel (like my first couple lines, then four to six lines, then another reminder use of character names in dialogue) don't mix it up, stay with a pattern that the reader has gotten used to. Try to stay consistent with how you are handling dialogue.

I personally find that the best dialogue is "sparse" in details other than what is being said. I don't mix too much action and dialogue, generally. I also don't think of that dialogue as everything that those particular characters ever said to one another during the time my story is covering. I think of it as excerpts, highlights, like the Cliff Notes and most interesting tidbits from all the dialogue that would have taken place between them. Surrounding the dialogue will be the context, the action, the explanation (when necessary). That way, when readers see those quotes, their "ears" perk up (so to speak) and they pay attention. You don't need to include every little thing your characters ever say to one another just like you don't need to include every little thing your protagonist does in his day.

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I agree with some of these responders who say that you should think like the character you are voicing. Try to experience what he or she would say and how they would say it. I often think of my characters dialogue interactions like a scene in a movie. Another important thing is to only use necessary dialogue that either pushes the plot forward or is essential to showing the personality of the character. Too much unnecessary dialogue drags to story down.

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