Writing with dialogue is tough.

Many writers wonder how to write with dialogue, even in 2020.

If you follow the techniques outlined in this guide, you will discover how to write with dialogue. 

You will be able to write more effective and revealing dialogue in your novels. The techniques will allow you to avoid writing with dialogue in a one-dimensional way.

With characters that fail to grasp the reader’s interest and imagination.

How to Write With Dialogue

To understand how to write with dialogue I must first introduce you to what Robert McKee calls ‘beats’. 
 
He suggests that the ‘beat’ is the smallest unit of construction, used to build scenes and acts. He defines a beat as, ‘an exchange of behaviours in action/reaction’. A second important aspect of a beat is that it passes a very particular piece of information or documents a change in character.

Writing with dialogue can be made up of a string of beats, each with its own distinct direction.

Example of How to Write with Dialogue
This exchange takes place between the father of a murdered child and a police officer. Remember writing with dialogue must have a direction. The aim of this exchange is to set up the father as a person who has said they will kill the murderer of his child. 

It had been a few days since they had discovered the mutilated body but this was the first time the policeman and the father had met in person. They had chatted on the phone twice, but the conversations had been truncated, nothing more than short, unemotional exchanges of information. Though the policeman had met many grieving parents in his long career, he still always felt uncomfortable in the presence of deep grief.
”I am sorry for your loss,” said the policeman.

”Yeah,” said the father, his head in his hands, not looking up as he spoke. ”I have just spoken to my boss and he is expecting to make an arrest in the next few days,” said the officer.
”I hope so,” replied the father, looking up. “You are not the only person looking for the killer. I have hired a private detective to follow some of my own theories.”
 
The officer’s face failed to show any emotion. “That’s regrettable. We don’t encourage. . . ” he paused searching for the correct word. ”Vigil- antes. I hope you plan to pass any information you gather to the police.” ”No,” says the father looking directly into the officer’s eyes. “I intend to find and kill the man who murdered my son.”
 
If we look at these 3 exchanges within the dialogue above, we can see the action/reaction process:
 
Exchange 1
[ACTION]
I am sorry for your loss,” said the policeman.
[REACTION]”Yeah,” said the father, his head in his hands, not looking up as he spoke.

In the dialogue above we see the police officer unable to cope with the deeply emotional situation and reverting to a well-worn, even clichéd comment. The father has been under extreme emotional pressure for days and has spoken to countless police officers. He feels helpless and less of a man. The authority figure of the policeman is challenging him on many levels. Therefore, his reaction is almost a non-reaction as he tries to maintain some control of the situation.
 
Exchange 2
[ACTION]”I have just spoken to my boss and he is expecting to make an arrest in the next few days,” said the officer.
[REACTION]”I hope so,” replied the father, looking up. “You are not the only person looking for the killer. I have hired a private detective to follow some of my own theories.”

In the dialogue above we see the police officer is unable to express his emotions. The police officer tries to engage in conversation by offering ‘information’ he feels the father will find useful. The father’s reaction is one of anger and leaves him feeling more helpless as a father and man. In the exchange he tries to gain some level of control by telling the police office about the private detective.

Exchange 3
[ACTION] The officer’s face failed to show any emotion. “That’s regrettable. We don’t encourage. . . ” he paused searching for the correct word. ”Vigilantes. I hope you plan to pass any information you gather to the police.”
[REACTION] ”No,” says the father looking directly into the officer’s eyes. “I intend to find and kill the man who murdered my son.”

In the dialogue above we see the police officer suspects the father is not telling the truth about the private detective. His response is to ‘toe the line’ and provide un-emotional information. This further angers the father and he responds with the threat to murder the killer. At that moment the father believes his words since they gives him some control and increases his feelings of masculinity. Only his actions at a later date will show his true internal voice.
 

How To Write With Dialogue: Characterzation 

Characterization is an accident that flows out of action and dialogue, Jack Woodford.

Characterization. This is an essential concept for any writer wondering how to write with dialogue.

Wiki defines characterization as ‘the process of conveying information about characters in narrative or dramatic works of art or everyday conversation'. When writing with dialogue, characters may be presented by means of description, through their actions, speech, or thoughts.

Everyone you will ever meet in your life is a paradox, you included. Each person has a set of beliefs and understandings. This is the never-ending internal dialogue, the voice in your head that dictates your thoughts and feelings. This is the first dimension. 

The second dimension is your external dialogue, the words you say. Your internal thoughts and external dialogue are not always the same. The final dimension is your reaction to events. How you react to events is a mirror of your internal dialogue and often in contradiction to your external dialogue.

It is this contradiction between internal thoughts, external dialogue and reaction to events that creates believable and memorable characterization in dialogue.

For example: Imagine a situation in a novel. A father’s only son is murdered by a serial killer. The father says at one point in the novel, “I intend to find and kill the man who murdered my son.”
Then, later in the climax of the novel when the father does indeed come face-to-face with the killer, rather than kill the killer, he turns him over to the police. It turns out that the father’s external thoughts and internal dialogue where not aligned – just like real life. Perhaps the father believed that justice, rather than murder, was the correct moral solution. Thus, the novel sees the father contradicting his dialogue, and his actions reflecting his internal feeling.

It is this complexity that makes for a three dimensional character when writing with dialogue.

Final Thoughts

Writers must learn how to write with dialogue in order to provide plot or character information. Writing with dialogue enables you to develop characterization, building multi-dimensional stories. 

Just listen to any real-life conversation and you will see it has little resemblance to the dialogue written in a story. When we converse in real-life situations are sentences are clipped, we talk across each other and most of the time use non-verbal cues for communication. The mistake many writers make is to see dialogue in a story as a reflection of real-life conversation – this is not the case.

Another thought to leave with is the aspect of conflict in writing. Here is a fantastic post we wrote about it