1. Keep a question or observation close to the response.
By the time we get to Ariadne’s response, we can’t remember the question. The reader has to review the question again before understanding the response, and continuing the story. I recommend keeping any response as close as possible to the triggering question or observation. At the most, allow only one intervening sentence.
2. Avoid question and answer.
Good dialogue is rarely a one-for-one ration, with a question, an answer, another question, another answer. Real people don’t directly answer each other’s questions or respond to each other’s thoughts. (See my post “Converse Obliquely” for a more in-depth discussion of this concept.)
In the few cases when you do have a Q&A session, you can liven it up a bit with responses that don’t answer the question directly.
The officer stabbed his electronic clipboard with his stylus. “Mileage, please.”
3. Use dialogue to describe.
Some time ago, I gave myself the challenge of deliberately writing a book that would rely more heavily on dialogue and body language than on description. Rather than opting for a long, descriptive paragraph, I turned to dialogue as my descriptor. Obviously, this will not work in every circumstance, but it’s worth experimenting with, at least as a practice technique.
Minimal back-up lighting, powered by solar rays, still lit the interior of the other ship. Jem navigated gingerly around several loose cables that hung from the ceiling. Will whistled as he stepped through the corridor.
If you’ve never tried to narrate an entire story mostly through dialogue, then I would suggest trying it, as my #1 recommendation for improving your dialogue. I learned a great amount about effective dialogue simply through this experiment alone!
What is your favorite tip for excellent dialogue? What do you find most challenging? I would love to know what your experience has been. Comment below!