Witty, Pretty, Nitty-Gritty—Writing Dialogue that Captivates Readers

Dialogue is so crucial to good writing. If description was the skeletal structure of your story, then dialogue would be the organs, muscles, skin, hair, etc., that make your story come to life. Dialogue allows you to build tension, introduce conflict, show character growth, explore relationships, question the very nature of humanity…alright, let’s not get carried away. But writing captivating dialogue is essential to writing captivating fiction. Unless, of course, your protagonist is stranded alone on a deserted island for the entirety of the novel—in which case, I pity your readers, even more than I do your protagonist. But enough of that. Here are three styles that make for captivating dialogue:

  1. Delectably Witty

The greatest dialogue I have ever read, in my own small opinion, is found in the works of Austen. Jane Austen, that is, whose novels are renowned for their complex characters, endearing love stories, and of course, their witty banter.

Ouch.

Austen’s dialogue is fast paced and sparkling with life. Each sentence in her writing has a depth of meaning greater than the entire text of many novels published today. Her dialogue is fascinating, because it is brilliant. However, her dialogue is not only witty, but it is also realistic. That is why it packs such a punch. Clever dialogue, when done well, is a joy to read. Clever dialogue, when it is not done well, is an affront to the reader’s intelligence. If you are going for wit in your dialogue, I advise you proceed with caution.

  1. Enchantingly Pretty

Not all of us are Janes. Some of us are Williams. If witty, fast-paced, and clever, just isn’t your style—if you have a poet’s heart, and spend an inordinate amount of time staring at stars, flowers, or bodies of water, perhaps this style suits you best. Shakespeare, whose brilliant works have inspired countless adaptations, not to mention a hefty chunk of the English language, knew how to write beautifully.

Note, of course, that Shakespeare’s dialogue also contained a great deal of wit—which brings me to my next point. There is no real one style of dialogue. You are writing the things that characters say, that’s all. But infusing your dialogue with a little bit of pretty or witty can take your writing from the ordinary to the extraordinary. The key is to refrain from becoming cheesy. And how do you do that? By writing your character’s words, not your own. Dialogue is all about individuals interacting, and if you try to turn that into a display of your own wordsmithing skills, it will undoubtedly flop. Write not to pack in a clever punchline or breathtaking metaphor, but to carry on a conversation. And in doing so, allow your characters to create their own clever punchlines and breathtaking metaphors, as a part of the natural flow of conversation.

  1. Plain Old Nitty-Gritty

Sometimes, writing isn’t about charm or beauty. Sometimes, the only way to write realistically is to cut out all the fluff, scrap the grandiloquence, and stick to the heart of the matter. To write humanly. To write simply. But don’t think that getting down to the nitty-gritty will be easier than writing eloquently. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to write dialogue that is simple, honest, plain, and heartfelt. But it is also incredibly effective, when done well. It is important to avoid cliche here, and to focus on what’s important in your story, and what’s important to your characters. Don’t try to create drama. Just write down what happened. Then let the readers bring their own drama.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about captivating dialogue as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it! If you read young adult fiction, you can get my novel, Unsettled, here.

Love to all!

Baylie

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