Dialogue should be two things: purposeful and compelling.
Dialogue should always have some reason for existing, be it to develop an important plot point, flesh out your character, or even to simply set the scene. If the dialogue isn’t achieving anything, then it’s only taking up important real estate in your story.
Quality dialogue finds that precise balance of being believable, but also interesting. Believable dialogue is specific to the context of your story and can mean different things, depending on your story’s genre.
How to nail your dialogue
Say it out loud
Saying the back-and-forth dialogue out loud can help you find the natural pauses and syntax that make sense. If it sounds awkward and uncomfortable when spoken, you know what has to be done. Cut it!
Study the art
Sometimes writing out dialogue from some of your favorite shows, or reading the subtitles to see how it’s written out, can help you visualize how dialogue can be delivered. So go ahead, go on a Netflix-watching spree in the name of art!
Pay attention to how people talk
This is specific to stories that are set in the same timeframe or area that you’re writing within. While writing down what people say directly in front of them may get you some weird looks, it’s helpful to make mental notes of the way they speak or any verbal quirks they have. People are always talking, and listening can help you write more believable dialogue. While it may be frightening, the real world can be the best place to hone your writing craft.
Write dialogue-only scenes
Continuing to write is the best way to improve. Practicing writing scenes of only dialogue can be very helpful in mastering the flow of conversation. Trying to build an entire relationship using only dialogue can really test the boundaries of how you’re using it. It also gives you an opportunity to look critically at the dialogue you’ve written to see whether or not it plays a role in driving the story forward.
Does this interaction showcase a character’s quirk, develop the plot, or give the reader valuable insight into a certain detail? If the answer is no, odds are it can get cut. Dialogue is a powerful tool. When used effectively, it’s the key to making someone fall in love with your story.