Writing How-To: Improve writing conversations

I answered this question on Quora but I thought I would expand it and make it a full blog post.

Q.  How can I get better at writing conversations?

There are a few things you should do if you want to get better at writing conversations. This can be writing for short stories, novels, screenplays, anything.

1. Listen to conversations going on around you, and write them down.

Whether you’re on the bus, in a cafe, or walking down the street, pay close attention to the conversations happening around you. Listen to the inflections in the banter, then write it down.

2. Read them aloud.

You can get a friend to help you, or do this yourself. Your ear is more likely to pick up errors, and notice if the words sound false or awkward.

3. Remove or refine dialogue tags (e.g. said, asked, replied).

You don’t need to get rid of them all, but including them at the end of every line of dialogue stunts the flow of the conversation. Once you make it clear who is talking, you can even go for short bursts without the tags altogether.

Example –

“Hey Marie, how’s it going?”

“Not too bad, you?”

“Can’t complain. Did you get that text I sent you the other night?”

“No, I didn’t.”

You can see that you don’t need the tags. The punctuation can almost tell it all.

You can also choose to refine your tags. The thesaurus is filled with helpful synonyms of ‘said’ and ‘asked’, etc. Or, better yet, include descriptions and actions after the dialogue.

Example –

“Hey Marie, how’s it going?” David asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Not too bad, you?”

“Can’t complain.” A shrug left David’s shoulders. “Did you get that text I sent you the other night?”

“No, I didn’t.” Marie shifted her gaze, unable to look him in the eye.

See? Just by adding some descriptions and actions, you bring the dialogue to life, and progress the story. We learn more about the characters and the situation.

4. Character backgrounds.

One mistake some writers make, is to make all characters sound the same. Each character has a different background, so use that. Think about:

– Born and Raised. An Australian doesn’t speak the same way as someone from New York. If English is not their primary language, are their phrases stunted?

– Education. Do they talk in slang, or technical terms. This also depends on their degree, for example, technical writing terms are very different to technical medical terms.

– How old are they? Teenagers are more likely to talk in slang and unusual terms. The elderly might not use conjunctions as often.

– Who are they talking to? What relationship do they have? Have they been in a sexual relationship before? Are they hiding a secret from them?

5. Read, read, and read some more!

All of these are important, but you really do have to make sure you read. Read a short story, read a book, read a screenplay, read a news article, read a magazine. Just read anything!

Further reading:

There are MANY blogs, books, and online tutorials that talk about this and other writing tips, tricks, and techniques.

Check out: Creative Writing Now, Writing Forward, Daily Writing Tips.