The Joy of Dialogue

Tomorrow will see the first anniversary of the death of renowned Irish author Maeve Binchy. Among her many accomplishment, Maeve was famed for her ability to capture the natural rhythms of people’s speech. She was a champion eavesdropper and could lipread, and she put her gifts to good use when she wrote her characters’ dialogue.

Maeve Binchy








Dialogue brings a story to life. Without it, books would just be big wodges of text. Dialogue helps you cut to the chase. You can reveal a lot of detail about your characters and plot without weighing your reader down. Dialogue also gives your story momentum; you can use it to introduce important scenes.

But people often find that when it comes to dialogue, they don’t know where to start, so here are a few handy hints.

  1. Eavesdrop shamelessly

The best way to create dialogue is to listen to people speaking. You’ll naturally absorb their speech patterns into your writing. As part of your craft, you have license to listen to people on buses, in cafes and on the street. You never know what you will hear. The little gems you pick up could well become stories in your own write.

  1. Listen to how people speak

Good dialogue isn’t just about what people say, it’s about how they say it. Listen out for how people form their sentences and what kind of slang they use. You’ll find that people’s speech patterns will vary according to where they live, their level of education and how old they are. A couple of crude examples include the young person saying OMG, or the professor peppering their speech with Latin If you zoom in on how people’ speak, your dialogue will ring true.

  1. Learn from the Masters

Pick up a book by an author you admire and pay attention to how they construct their dialogue. Take note of how it is laid out line by line, and of the language they use. Most dialogue is written in much more informal language, to reflect how people speak. There is also very little ‘he said/she said’ as this will be apparent from the text. Read it out loud. Put on silly voices. Let it seep into your skin.

Which authors do you think use dialogue particularly well? Let me know.

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