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033 6 Simple Rules For Writing Effective Dialogue
6th May 2015 • Rough Draft • Rainmaker.FM
00:00:00 00:07:07

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Why talk about dialogue in a podcast about online writing? Dialogue builds tension. Allows you to show instead of tell. And so much more.

People love to read dialogue.

We gravitate to the words on the page that are surrounded by quotation marks — the speech marks — because we know that two humans are going to interact and we re drawn to the drama.

As Alice said in Alice in Wonderland, What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?

The same holds true for online copy. We want our pictures. We want our conversations.

In past episodes we ve dealt with images — today we are going to cover the conversations.

In this 6-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • Why people love dialogue (involves butter and the hood of a hot car)
  • The dialogue mistake everyone makes (because it’s so dang boring if you don’t)
  • An easy trick to control the speed of your dialogue
  • How to ruin dialogue with an information dump
  • The “start in the middle” dialogue trick that grabs people’s attention immediately
  • And so much more!

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The Show Notes

The Transcript

6 Simple Rules For Writing Effective Dialogue

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, a digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Demian Farnworth: Howdy friend, this is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

So here we are, in episode 33, the episode on dialogue. And you might be wondering why, in a podcast on web writing, and in a particular series of episodes about on-page tricks to capturing and keeping the readers attention why are we are talking about dialogue

Why People Love Dialogue (Involves Butter and the Hood of a Hot Car)

Well, simple: People like to read dialogue. We gravitate to the words on the page that are surrounded by quotation marks — the speech marks — because we know that two humans are going to interact and we re drawn to the drama.

As Alice said in Alice in Wonderland, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”

The same holds true for online copy. We want our pictures. We want our conversations.

Now we ve dealt with the pictures in a previous episode — today we are going to cover the conversations.

So why do we love conversations? Like I just said, one reason is — well, at least we hope — there will be some drama in it

But there s another reason

As Chuck Wendig puts it: DIALOGUE IS EASY LIKE SUNDAY MORNING

“Our eyes flow over dialogue like butter on the hood of a hot car. This is true when reading fiction. This is true when reading scripts. What does this tell you? It tells you: you should be using a lot of dialogue.”

But dialogue also builds tension, allows you, the writer, to show instead of tell, allows you to reveal things about a person you wouldn t be able to say without dialogue. And of course, dialogue adds white space, that lovely silence which helps us frame the perfect story.

But there are rules behind using dialog. While dialogue is easy, it s also easy to screw it up. So let s tackle those rules.

The Dialogue Mistake Everyone Makes (Because It s So Dang Boring If You Don t

One, keep your dialogue tags simple. Nothing fancy. He said, she said will do. You might find yourself using those words 40 times and think, “Gee whiz, this is boring.” But your reader won t. And if you must have variety, “he replied” or “she answered” will do. Otherwise, you confuse the reader with too many dialog tags.

An Easy Trick To Control the Speed of Your Dialogue

Two, know how to control speed with dialog. Long sentences in speech slow down the pace. So if you need to slow things down, use longer sentences. Short sentences pick up the pace. Quick, back and forth, one, two, three word responses, creates a driving, forward moving sensation.

How to Ruin Dialogue With an Information Dump

Three, master the dialog information dump. Dialogue is a great place to share information describe something that happened in the past or might happen or should happen in the future but you ruin the usefulness of dialog by letting one character drone on. Instead, it s a tennis match. Question. Answer. Back and forth. There is rhythm, cadence.

Paint a Picture

Four, put your dialogue in a scene. Paint a picture. Where are we? On the side of the road outside a small Arizona town, the sun about to set on the desert? In a capsule orbiting the earth, your oxygen levels shrinking by the minute? Under a club where the best punk band is tearing the place apart?

The “Start in the Middle” Dialogue Trick that Grabs People s Attention Immediately

Five, start in the middle of the conversation. You will bore your readers to tears if you start your dialogue in the beginning, at the hellos, the small talks. Just cut to the meaty stuff. Get to the crux of the conversation. And then leave abruptly. Warning, this is an art. It does take some skill. So be patient with yourself.

Honor Dialogue Punctuation

Six, honor dialogue punctuation. Each new speaker gets his own line, know the difference between a single and double speech mark, and when to use either. And don t forget, punctuation should be inside the speech marks.

Now, if you were a fiction writer or screenwriter, you would need to know a lot more about dialogue. Like avoiding “on the nose” dialogue or using subtext and subterfuge to create suspense and tension.

But these six rules will serve the average web writer well. Will even serve the exceptional web writer well. But if you are interested in learning more about writing dialogue, check out the show notes. There will a number of resources to help you along the way.

And don t forget, if you want these rules on paper, check out the transcript of this show. Copy, past, print, voila. You now have these rules on your wall.

And until next time, take care.

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