In very simple terms, dialogue is the author’s way of sharing information without expressly telling the reader this information. Before going any further, keep in mind the following: first, start writing on a new line when a different character speaks. Second, you can use single or double inverted commas when writing dialogue. Whichever you choose, remain consistent throughout your novel.

The Functions of Dialogue

Dialogue has four main functions:

  • To progress the story. Every conversation must involve a crucial piece of information, fact or revelation that the reader needs to know.
  • To create excitement. Your aim should be to make your readers experience what the character experiences. For example, imagine if one of your characters says this: “Oh my God. We’re stuck in here. We’re all going to die soon.” Can you see how this dialogue will create the necessary tension to give the story a dangerous feel?
  • To tell your readers more about a character’s background. For instance, imagine that one of your characters says this: “We need to get that appointment with that famous surgeon, Mr. Smith, in London, old chap.” With the use of the words ‘old chap’ and ‘London’ you’re quite likely to assume that this man is English.
  • To give pace to a story. Dialogue allows you to convey large chunks of information in a concise manner. For instance, if your character barges into a flat and says, “What a dump!” the reader will understand that the flat is in a mess and untidy.

Believable and Realistic Dialogue

It’s not necessary to write exactly what people say to make dialogue authentic. When people speak, they tend to stutter and mumble. Such conversations, if transcribed, will make the dialogue appear rambling, repetitive and untidy. You must modify such speech so that the dialogue appears forceful, sharp and clean.

Should You Use Direct or Indirect Speech?

Direct speech means that the reader actually ‘hears’ the words the character speaks. Here’s an example: “I’m angry with you, Sally. How could you have criticised Mary?” John said.

Indirect speech means that the narrator will outline what has been said: ‘John said he was so angry with Sally and questioned why she criticised Mary.’

Naturally, direct speech has more impact, is more powerful and the preferred option for many writers. You should only use indirect speech to summarise huge chunks of information, when the information is inconsequential to the reader or the characters are repeating information already given to the reader.

Making Your Dialogue Dynamic

Dialogue can be made to appear dynamic by incorporating some of the ideas explained below:

  • Dialogue tags. Instead of common tags like, ‘he said,’ or ‘she said,’ you can try more dynamic ones like, ‘John added,’ or ‘Dorina interrupted’.
  • Slang. While slang might make your novel modern today, it will instantly date your story.
  • Swearing. The advice given to most aspiring authors is that they should only allow their characters to swear under the most extreme situations. Too much swearing and you may run the risk of upsetting your readers.

The suggestions made above are a guide to help you get started. When you have mastered the art of writing dynamic dialogue, your novel will become an exciting piece of work that will certainly be attractive to publishers.



  • Coulmas, Florian (Editor). Direct and Indirect Speech Mouton de Gruyter (1 April 1986)
  • Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
  • Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101:

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