Write Dialogue That Grabs Your Reader

Deep, thought-provoking characters are one of the keys to grabbing your reader by the eyeballs causing them to postpone putting that book down. Flawed characters with life-like problems capture a reader’s empathy. Great characters make for great stories. The way they speak and communicate is the portal to their past and their soul.

The first key to writing a character with depth is to know your character inside and out. Are they educated? Well-educated people speak differently that lesser educated ones. What is their profession? Doctors, lawyers and teachers use different terms in their professions. Are they religious? These questions and others that are only limited by your imagination are the keys to understanding how your characters think and how they speak.

Here are some key research items you’ll want to employ to write believable and compelling dialogue.

1. Listen to the way people talk.

The world is filled with a smorgasbord of personalities from varying social and economic strata. Really listen to the conversations you overhear in the mall, at the airport or in the grocery store. Practice stealthy eavesdropping. When someone starts up a conversation with you whether you know them or not, pay attention to the words they use and how they are delivered. Make notes in a notebook or a journal. I like to record my thoughts on my smartphone before they evaporate. Refer back to them later. This will help you emulate real life dialogue in your novels.


An example from my own experience is a man I know who, when he speaks, sounds his S’s as short, clipped whistles, punctuating his words. It’s hard to ignore and somewhat distracting.

The next time your spouse or significant other is angry with you, step back. Listen to the words they are using without becoming drawn into the emotion of the conversation. Evaluate their language objectively, clinically. Then make notes. But I’d recommend you do this after the conflict is over lest you risk another confrontation.

Remember, for writers, everything that happens to you is research!

2. Strive for realism.

If you are writing about a doctor or an auto mechanic, find a physician or auto technician who will let you shadow them for the day. People loved to be asked about their lives and their professions. Listen to them engage in conversation with other doctors or mechanics. Sometimes it can seem like an entirely different language. Tell them about your plot. Ask them if they will read your dialogue. They can enhance the realism of your fictional conversations.

For example, when a doctor orders blood to be given to a patient, he or she won’t say, “Give a transfusion.” I spent eleven years working in hospitals and on nursing units and I never heard anyone say those words. What really might be said is, “Type and cross match two units. Infuse ASAP!”

Another medical example comes from the field of nursing. Nurses don’t say, “Mrs. Jones needs her medication.” What they might say is, “The patient in three twenty-four needs forty milligrams of Lasix. STAT!”


Once you have written your dialogue, let your expert read it for accuracy and realism.

3. Avoid introductions and greetings.

Generally speaking, you want to start you scenes in media res, “in the middle of things.” Unnecessary “hellos and good-byes” and handshakes bore the reader. Start your dialogues in the heart of the conversation.

“Where the hell have you been?” Julia seethed.

Julia is a distraught mother who has been waiting up for her teenage son who has been out all night.

This first sentence grabs the reader, pulling them in. They will not put the book down until they find out where “Johnny” spent the night.

4. Not all characters speak in complete sentences.

We all do it. We speak in phrases and incomplete sentences. Add spice to your dialogue with short, clipped responses. Don’t overdo it though. Like just the right amount of salt, this type of dialogue can bring out the flavor in your characters. Too much and it becomes unpalatable.

The words that come out of your character’s mouths reveal so much about them. Their mood, tone, word choice, diction all tell the reader what kind of person they are. It reveals their current state of mind and their outlook on the world. Their education and beliefs.


Pay careful attention to the dialogue in your plots and your characters will come to life.

I can help you punch up your dialogue. E-mail me.

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