Dialogue: we know it’s one of the most important elements to creative writing, but what techniques can we use to write it well? How can we make it sound natural, and compelling, yet heightened, and evocative? This article will talk through some of the leading techniques for writing compelling dialogue! 

1. Verisimilitude: Think of people you know! 

It’s sometimes said that good art is drawn closely from life. We have to be careful as writers that we don’t defame anyone however. This means that we have to be careful not to write about people we know in real life in a way that damages their reputation! So always carefully change your characters so they are not recognisable as people you know.

Having said that … basing your characters on people you know, or a couple of people, may help you to accurately represent the way people really talk and interact in real life. Many authors like JK Rowling and Donna Tartt say that they write in public places: this means that when they need a new character they can just look up in the cafe and find one! Or they may overhear little pieces of conversation that remind them of the real way in which people interact with each other.

Basing a character loosely on someone you know means you can ask yourself, ‘Would Jerry really speak like that?’ 

2. Using Objectives to Improve Your Dialogue

The best characters often have clear objectives that are urgent. Think of Harry Potter; Volde is coming to get him and he must find a way to defeat the Dark Lord of he will likely be killed. 

Much good dialogue arises from compelling and urgent objectives in this way.

Usually, when people talk, it will be to gain something, or achieve an objective. Those objectives may vary widely, for instance it could be to acquire something in a shop, or it may be something less tangible such as speaking to reduce a sense of loneliness, or to participate in a community. 

Finding your character’s objectives first may help you to decide what they say!

3. Using Competing Objectives to Write Compelling Dialogue

Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame recommends an excellent writing exercise, which is to have one character ask another character for money, and for the second character to refuse to give it to them. 

Drama has conflict at its core, and conflict arises from competing objectives. When one person is trying to achieve the objective of gaining something from a second person, they will use a variety of tactics to achieve that goal. And the second character will use a variety of counter tactics to avoid acquiescing! 

So show the dance of tactic and counter tactic which arises from competing objectives to help you to craft compelling dialogue rooted in conflict! 

4. Make your Dialogue Colloquial or Regional for Increased Verisimilitude

Sometimes dialogue can feel a little forced, or wooden. Consider making it more colloquial, or drawing more from the regional nature of the speech patterns in the area you are exploring! Get a few more of the idiosyncrasies of your chosen setting into the mouths of your characters! 

5. Make your Dialogue less Formal 

Sometimes writers make their dialogue excessively formal. Think of the way you really speak to your siblings when crafting dialogue between a brother and sister. You probably speak fairly informally to your boss, and colleagues as well. So why are you writing such formal dialogue in your creative piece? 

I hope these tips and tricks help you to craft dialogue that you are truly happy with!


Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.