Dialogue In Short Stories: How Much Is Too Much?

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Are you one of those writers who loves to fill your short stories with lengthy, detailed conversations between characters? Or do you prefer to keep dialogue to a minimum, focusing instead on descriptive prose and action?

Whichever camp you fall into, the question remains: How much dialogue is too much in a short story?

Dialogue can be a powerful tool for advancing the plot, revealing character, and adding depth to a story. However, too much dialogue can slow down the pacing, overwhelm readers, and distract from the main narrative.

In this article, we’ll explore the role of dialogue in short stories and how to strike the right balance between conversation and action. So whether you’re a dialogue aficionado or a minimalist, read on to discover how to make your short stories sing.

Key Takeaways

  • Dialogue is an important tool in short stories that can reveal character, advance the plot, and create tension and emotion.
  • Finding the right balance between dialogue and description is crucial, as well as paying attention to pacing, punctuation, and tags.
  • Effective dialogue can create three-dimensional characters and drive the plot forward, but too much dialogue can slow down pacing and distract from the main narrative.
  • Editing dialogue involves eliminating unnecessary lines, checking for consistency, and reading it aloud to catch awkward phrasing and unnatural speech patterns.

The Importance of Dialogue in Short Stories

You might be surprised to learn just how crucial dialogue can be in short stories, as it can add depth and dimension to your characters in a way that description alone cannot.

Dialogue can reveal a character’s personality, motivations, and beliefs through the way they speak, their word choice, and the tone they use. It can also create tension and conflict between characters, driving the plot forward and keeping readers engaged.

The role of tone in dialogue is particularly important. By carefully choosing the words and phrasing used by your characters, you can create a specific tone that conveys the emotions and attitudes of the scene.

For example, a character who speaks in short, clipped sentences and uses harsh language may come across as angry or defensive, while a character who speaks in a soft, gentle tone may be seen as kind or compassionate.

Using dialogue to reveal character is an effective way to show rather than tell, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions and creating a more immersive reading experience.

Finding the Right Balance

Striking a balance between dialogue and description in a short story is like walking a tightrope. You want to engage your readers with dialogue that moves the story forward, but you also want to provide enough description to paint a vivid picture of the setting and characters.

Dialogue pacing is crucial; too much dialogue can make the story feel disjointed and rushed, while too little can make it feel stagnant.

In addition, dialogue can also serve as a tool for character development. The way a character speaks and interacts with others can reveal their personality, motivations, and values. However, it’s important not to rely solely on dialogue for character development.

Descriptions of physical appearance, actions, and thoughts can also contribute to a fully realized character. Finding the right balance between dialogue and description can make your short story a compelling and immersive experience for your readers.

crafting a balance between dialogue and description in a short story
Crafting a balance between dialogue and description in a short story

Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

When crafting a narrative, it’s crucial to maintain a balance between the characters’ spoken words and their internal thoughts and actions. Dialogue can bring characters to life, but too much of it can slow down the pacing of a story and make it feel bogged down. To ensure that your dialogue is effective, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Proper punctuation is key to making dialogue flow naturally and making it easy for readers to follow. Use quotation marks to indicate when a character is speaking, and use commas, periods, and other punctuation marks to indicate pauses, interruptions, and changes in tone.
  • Dialogue tags are used to indicate who is speaking in a conversation. Use a variety of tags, such as ‘said,’ ‘asked,’ and ‘replied,’ to keep your writing varied and engaging. However, be careful not to overuse them, as they can become distracting and repetitive.

When done well, dialogue can add depth and dimension to your characters and bring your story to life. By following these tips, you can craft effective and engaging dialogue that keeps your readers hooked.

Editing Dialogue

When editing dialogue, it’s important to keep in mind three key points:

  • Eliminating unnecessary lines can make your dialogue more effective and impactful.
  • Checking for consistency in the language, tone, and pacing of your dialogue can help keep your story grounded and believable.
  • Reading your dialogue aloud can help you catch any awkward phrasing or unnatural speech patterns that might need tweaking.

Remember to use contractions to make your writing sound more natural and conversational.

Eliminating Unnecessary Lines

You’re probably using too many lines of dialogue if your readers feel like they’re drowning in a sea of never-ending conversations that seem to go on forever, making them want to pull their hair out in frustration.

It’s important to remember that dialogue is a tool to move the story forward and convey emotion, not a place to insert fluff and unnecessary details. When editing your dialogue, take a step back and ask yourself if each line is essential to the plot or character development. If it doesn’t add value, consider cutting it.

Eliminating unnecessary lines can not only improve the flow of your story, but it can also make the remaining dialogue more impactful. When there are fewer lines, each one carries more weight and can convey more emotion. This can create a more intense and engaging experience for your readers.

So don’t be afraid to make bold cuts and only keep the lines that truly matter. Your readers will thank you for it.

revising unnecessary lines in creating dialogue
Revising unnecessary lines in creating dialogue

Checking for Consistency

Ensuring consistency in your writing style can make for a more enjoyable reading experience, as it helps to create a seamless flow throughout the story. One important aspect of consistency in dialogue is maintaining character. Each character should have their own unique voice, dialect, and mannerisms that are consistent throughout the story. This helps the reader to identify and connect with each character, making them more invested in the story.

Another important aspect of consistency is avoiding info dumps. While it may be tempting to have characters explain everything in detail, this can quickly become tedious and disrupt the flow of the story. Instead, focus on incorporating information in a natural and organic way, through the dialogue and actions of the characters.

This not only maintains consistency in the writing style but also makes the story more engaging and immersive for the reader. By maintaining character and avoiding info dumps, you can create a consistent and enjoyable reading experience for your audience.

Reading Dialogue Aloud

Reading dialogue aloud can bring your characters to life, allowing you to hear their voices and imagine their personalities. As a writer, this can be an incredibly valuable tool for crafting realistic and engaging dialogue in your short stories.

By reading your dialogue out loud, you can get a better sense of how it flows and whether it sounds natural. You can also experiment with pacing control, adjusting the length of pauses and the speed at which characters speak to create different moods and tones.

However, it’s important to remember that reading dialogue aloud is not a substitute for careful editing and revision. While it can help you catch awkward phrasing or unrealistic dialogue, you still need to take the time to analyze your characters and their motivations and ensure that their words are consistent with their personalities.

Additionally, while pacing control can be a useful tool, it’s important not to overdo it and sacrifice clarity for the sake of atmosphere. Ultimately, finding the right balance between reading dialogue aloud and careful revision is key to creating compelling and authentic dialogue in your short stories.

Examples of Effective Dialogue in Short Stories

When delving into the realm of short stories, one can’t help but notice how effective dialogue can bring characters to life and paint vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. Dialogue as characterization is a powerful tool that can help create three-dimensional characters. Through their words and the way they speak, we can learn a lot about their personalities, their backgrounds, and their motivations.

Effective dialogue can also help drive the plot forward, as characters react and respond to each other’s words and actions. It can create tension, build suspense, and add depth to the story.

One example of effective dialogue in short stories can be found in Raymond Carver’s ‘Cathedral’. The dialogue between the narrator and the blind man creates a sense of intimacy and connection between the two characters. Through their conversation, we learn about their past experiences, their fears, and their hopes for the future.

The dialogue also serves to drive the plot forward, as the narrator’s attitudes and perspectives are challenged and changed by the blind man’s insights and observations. Overall, effective dialogue can elevate a short story from a mere collection of events to a rich and engaging narrative that captures the reader’s attention from beginning to end.

Here’s how to write a compelling dialogue in short stories


You close your eyes and take a deep breath, letting the words of the short story sink in.

The dialogue was just enough to bring the characters to life, but not so much that it overwhelmed the plot. It was a delicate balance, one that the author had managed to achieve with finesse.

As you open your eyes, you realize that the symbolism used in the dialogue has touched a nerve deep within you.

You feel a sense of connection with the characters, as though you were right there with them, experiencing their emotions and struggles. It was as though the author had used the dialogue to create a bridge between the characters and the reader, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the story.

This, you realize, is the power of effective dialogue in short stories – it can transport you to another world, make you feel things you never thought possible, and leave you with a lasting impression.

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.