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  • Alexa Sullivan

On Romance Writing #2: Five Fast Tips to Write Snappier Dialogue with Natalie Cross

Welcome back to our mini-series on romance writing, with tips from some fellow authors! Today we welcome Natalie Cross, author of Ballroom Blitz, Ballroom Blind Date, and Ballroom Prom. Her books and social media are linked below, so be sure to check out her stuff! I know I'll be adding these to my TBR shelf for 2023!

OK Natalie, help us out! How can we write snappier dialogue?

Five Fast Tips to Write Snappier Dialogue

Dialogue. It can be the bane of a writer’s existence or the hook on which we hang our proverbial genius caps. Banter, monologues, conversations, lengthy expositions by people we wish would just stop talking so we can get back to the action. It’s vital to a good story.

Dialogue serves so many vital purposes in a story. It can advance the action without feeling like the dreaded infodump, reveal a character’s personality or belief system, or help two people fall in love.

That doesn’t mean writing it is easy. We have all read bad dialogue, the kind that fills pages with unimportant details or that is so stilted and out of touch with reality, it detracts from the overall story.

So how do you write better dialogue? Here are five fast tips to snappier dialogue, a la Aaron Sorkin or “The Gilmore Girls.”

Tip #1: Read Your Dialogue Out Loud

This may sound obvious, but dialogue is meant to be spoken words. Things that are written on a page may have a different cadence than if they’re said aloud. Take iambic pentameter. If you have two contemporary characters going to a coffee shop, they’re not going to talk in perfect ten-beat lines.

In historicals, too, reading your words aloud can help you match the phrasing to the time period. Which brings me to tip #2.

Tip #2: Do your Research

Words have changed in meaning over the centuries of human existence. Victorian turns of phrase are very different from the way people would talk in 1970s Los Angeles. Research how people spoke, what words they used to describe things. Go to the Library of Congress and read primary source material like letters from the time period in which you’re writing. Read other books written around that time period. Check out and flip through old advertising listings.

All of these will help you have more accurate and era-appropriate dialogue.

Tip #3: You Don’t Need to Write in Perfectly “Accurate” Patois

Here’s the thing: If you are not a member of a particular cultural group or you have any concerns about misrepresenting that group, don’t write your assumption of their speech patterns. For instance, let’s say you are writing a novel set in Africa. You want some of your characters to use “accurate” dialogue, and so you write their phrases in your take of Pidgin English. You have never spoken pidgin, nor lived in Africa.

When in doubt, have your characters speak in patterns representative of their personalities. If someone is reticent, have them speak in monosyllables. If another is anxious, give them too many words and free associations because they have trouble nailing down what they want to say.

Also, if you are writing outside of your culture, cast a wide net when looking for beta readers. The more diverse your beta readers, the better you will be able to sift through the feedback to ensure that your dialogue is accurate.

You can also reach out to native speakers and have them review pieces of your work.

Tip #4: Break Up the Dialogue Every So Often

A long, unending page of dialogue is not a story, it is a script. And even in a play, there are breaks for stage directions to give the actors and director insight into their characters.

Tip #5: You Don’t Need Fancy Dialogue Tags.

They said

He says

She said

These phrases are sufficient for most dialogue statements. “She shuddered” is not a dialogue tag, it is an action. You can use a few others, like “lied,” but minimize your use of dialogue tags in general. It helps everything flow a little better.

Along these lines is the tip that not all dialogue is spoken. Body language, sign language, animal sounds, etc. can all convey important information.

What are your tips for writing better dialogue? Do you like it fast and snappy, or full of subtext? Leave a comment below!

Thank you, Natalie, these are great tips!

Here's how to find Natalie and her books!

Ballroom Blind Date:

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