Writing Dialogue: What Should Writers Try To Avoid?

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Are you tired of reading dialogue that feels like it’s been ripped straight from a soap opera? Do you cringe when characters speak in an overly formal, stilted language that no one in real life would ever use?

As a writer, it’s crucial to master the art of writing dialogue that feels realistic, engaging, and authentic. But with so many pitfalls to avoid, where do you even start?

Fear not, because in this article, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the most common mistakes writers make when crafting dialogue. From avoiding clichés to learning how to use silence to your advantage, we’ll explore the dos and don’ts that will help you take your dialogue from amateur to pro.

So buckle up, get ready to learn, and let’s dive into the world of writing dialogue.

Key Takeaways

  • Avoid using stilted and unrealistic language, and instead focus on crafting dialogue that is engaging and authentic.
  • Don’t rely solely on dialogue for exposition. Use it to show character motivations and personality.
  • Avoid clichés and predictable phrases, and instead, use unique language that surprises and intrigues the reader.
  • Use action beats, pauses, and body language to enhance or contradict dialogue and make scenes more dynamic and immersive.

Avoid Stilted, Unrealistic Language

Don’t use stiff, unnatural dialogue that sounds like it’s coming straight out of a textbook – it’s way too boring!

Realistic dialogue is important to make the characters feel like real people. It’s not just about the words they say, but how they say it. Their tone, inflection, and body language all contribute to character expression.

When writing dialogue, it’s important to consider the personality and background of each character. They should have their own unique way of speaking that reflects their individuality. Avoid using cliches and predictable phrases. Instead, try to think outside of the box and write dialogue that surprises and intrigues the reader.

Realistic dialogue adds depth to characters and can make a story more engaging.

Don’t Use Dialogue Solely for Exposition

You hear two strangers on the bus discussing their personal lives in great detail, revealing everything from their marital status to their morning routines. You can’t help but feel like the conversation is forced and unnatural.

As a writer, it’s important to remember that dialogue shouldn’t solely serve the purpose of exposition. Characters shouldn’t have conversations that are solely meant to inform the reader of important information. Instead, dialogue should be used to show the reader the personality and motivations of the characters.

When writing dialogue, it’s important to remember the phrase “show, don’t tell.”Instead of having characters simply state their emotions or thoughts, try to have them express these things through their actions and words. For example, instead of having a character say “I’m really nervous, “have them fidget with their hands or avoid eye contact.

This not only makes the dialogue more interesting to read but also helps the reader to connect with the characters on a deeper level. By avoiding using dialogue solely for exposition, you can create more natural and engaging conversations that will keep your readers invested in the story.

writing a dialogue for a new book
Writing a dialogue for a new book

Avoid Overuse of Dialogue Tags

When using dialogue tags, it’s important to remember that they should enhance the conversation and not distract from it. Overusing dialogue tags can disrupt the pacing and flow of the conversation, making it difficult for readers to keep up with the cadence of the dialogue.

Instead of relying on tags like “he said”or “she replied”after every line of dialogue, try to vary your sentence structure and use action beats to convey who is speaking. To improve the cadence of your dialogue, consider using dialogue tags sparingly and instead, focus on using action beats to provide context for the conversation.

Action beats are descriptions of physical actions that a character takes while speaking, such as shrugging, nodding, or smiling. These beats can help to break up the dialogue and provide visual cues for readers, making it easier for them to follow the conversation.

Additionally, varying the length and structure of your sentences can help to create a natural rhythm and pace for your dialogue, keeping readers engaged and invested in the conversation. By paying attention to dialogue pacing and improving the cadence of your conversations, you can create more dynamic and engaging dialogue that will keep readers hooked from start to finish.

Don’t Be Afraid of Silence

When it comes to writing dialogue, don’t be afraid of silence. Instead, embrace it as a tool to convey emotion and build tension in your scenes.

Use beats and pauses to show characters processing their thoughts and feelings, allowing readers to connect with them on a deeper level. And remember, sometimes the most powerful moments in a conversation can come from the absence of words.

So, don’t shy away from using silence to create impactful and memorable moments in your writing.

Use Beats and Pauses to Convey Emotion

Feeling the emotions of your characters can be tough, but adding beats and pauses to their dialogue is like adding a splash of color to a black-and-white canvas. Using body language and tonality to convey emotion is important in writing dialogue, but incorporating pauses can elevate the emotional impact of a scene.

Pauses can create tension and anticipation, allowing the reader to feel the weight of the moment. It can also give the character time to process their emotions, which can make their dialogue more genuine and believable.

Incorporating beats, which are small actions or movements, can also add depth to the scene. It can show the character’s nervousness, excitement, or hesitation. For example, a character playing with their hair or tapping their foot can convey their anxiety or impatience.

These small details can make the scene more vivid and realistic, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in the story. Overall, using beats and pauses in dialogue can add a layer of complexity to the scene, making it more engaging and memorable for the reader.

writing the dialogue more realistic to convey emotion
Writing the dialogue more realistic to convey an emotion

Allow Characters to Think and Process

Allowing characters to think and process their emotions can deepen the impact of their dialogue, drawing readers in and making them a part of the story.

When characters are given the opportunity to reflect on their feelings and inner conflicts, it can provide a deeper understanding of their motivations and actions. This can also lead to more realistic and relatable dialogue, as characters process their emotions in a way that feels authentic and organic.

Internal conflict is an important aspect of character development, and allowing characters to think and process their emotions is essential in showcasing this. Giving characters time to reflect on their inner struggles, allows them to grow and change throughout the story.

Whether it’s a protagonist coming to terms with their flaws or an antagonist questioning their motives, internal conflict adds depth and complexity to characters.

Ultimately, allowing characters to think and process their emotions is a crucial tool for writers to create well-rounded and compelling characters that readers can truly invest in.

Use Silence to Build Tension

Imagine you’re watching a scene unfold in a movie, and all of a sudden, the characters stop speaking, the tension in the air palpable as the silence builds. This technique of using silence to create tension is a powerful tool in writing dialogue.

Pauses and beats can convey emotion and add depth to a scene, allowing the reader to truly feel the weight of the moment. However, it’s important to use this technique sparingly and purposefully. Overusing silence can lead to stilted language and clichés, making the scene feel forced and contrived.

It’s important to research backgrounds for authenticity and avoid exposition and overused phrases, while also creating unique character voices. By finding the right balance between dialogue and silence, writers can create truly impactful and memorable scenes.

Avoid Stereotypical or Clichéd Dialogue

When it comes to crafting dialogue, it’s important to avoid stereotypical or clichéd language. To accomplish this, you should focus on creating unique voices for each character and doing your research to understand their different backgrounds.

Avoid overused phrases and tropes to keep your dialogue fresh and engaging. By following these tips, you’ll be able to create realistic and memorable conversations that will keep readers interested from start to finish.

Create Unique Voices for Each Character

To create unique voices for each character, you should avoid making them all sound the same. Character development is crucial in establishing the distinct tone and personality of each character, and a consistent tone throughout the dialogue can help readers connect with the characters on a deeper level.

The use of specific phrases, slang, and dialects can help differentiate the characters and give them more depth. It’s important to consider the character’s background, personality, and motivations when crafting their dialogue. A character who’s shy and introverted may speak in shorter, more hesitant sentences, while a confident and outgoing character may use more elaborate language and speak in longer more complex sentences.

By creating unique voices for each character, you can make them more memorable and engaging to readers, ultimately creating a more compelling story.

creating unique character voices for a more compelling story
Creating unique character voices for a more compelling story

Research and Understand Different Backgrounds

Understanding different backgrounds is crucial in creating authentic and relatable characters that can deeply connect with readers. It’s not just about knowing the cultural differences, but also about understanding the nuances of each character’s background.

Cultural sensitivity is essential when portraying different races, ethnicities, and cultures. Writers should research and have a deep understanding of the customs, traditions, and beliefs of the characters they are creating.

Authentic representation is equally important as cultural sensitivity. Writers must ensure that they’re not relying on stereotypes and clichés to describe a character’s background. Each character should have a unique voice, personality, and backstory that’s not solely defined by their cultural identity.

It’s essential to avoid exoticism and tokenism, which can further perpetuate harmful stereotypes. By taking the time to research and understand different backgrounds, writers can create characters that readers can relate to and connect with on a deeper level.

Avoid Overused Phrases and Tropes

You’ve done your research and you’ve got a good understanding of different backgrounds. Now, it’s time to focus on the actual dialogue. One common mistake writers make is using overused phrases and tropes. While they may seem like easy options, they can make your writing sound cliché and unoriginal.

To avoid this, try to come up with alternative phrases that convey the same meaning but in a unique way. Don’t be afraid to play around with language and try new things.

Additionally, balancing dialogue with action and description can help make your scenes more dynamic and engaging. This will keep your readers interested and invested in your characters and their stories.

Here are some alternatives for overused phrases:

  • Instead of “It’s not you, it’s me, “try “This doesn’t feel right for either of us.”
  • Instead of “We need to talk, “try ” There’s something important we need to discuss.”

To balance dialogue with action and description, try:

  • Including body language and physical actions that enhance or contradict the dialogue.
  • Using setting and sensory details to create a more immersive experience for your readers.

Remember, writing dialogue is about finding your own unique voice and style. By avoiding overused phrases and balancing dialogue with action and description, you can create a story that is fresh, engaging, and truly your own.


Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of the article. Now that you know what to avoid when writing dialogue, you’re well on your way to crafting realistic and engaging conversations between your characters.

Remember, dialogue should flow naturally, sounding like real people talking. Avoid using stilted or unrealistic language, and don’t use dialogue solely for exposition. Also, avoid overusing dialogue tags, and don’t be afraid of silence.

But most importantly, avoid stereotypical or clichéd dialogue. It’s like a stale loaf of bread – unappetizing and lacking flavor. Instead, spice up your dialogue with unique phrases and individual personalities.

Just like a chef adds spices to a dish, you can add personality to your dialogue to make it stand out.

So go forth and write captivating dialogue that’ll keep your readers engaged and coming back for more. With these tips in mind, your characters will come to life, and your story will be all the better for it.

Happy writing!

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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.