10 Tips on Writing Dialogue

Rowena Macdonalod

Rowena Macdonald / by Martin Fuller

Fiction writer Rowena Macdonald says she finds writing dialogue much easier than constructing a plot—because, as she says, dialogue is all around us in real life, whereas strong fiction plots are not. She then offers 10 tips for solid dialogue. My favorites:

  • “Don’t write out ums and ers. They are realistic, but they look cartoonish in a piece of literature. Instead, use ellipses to give the impression of pauses or uncertainty.”
  • “If writing dialogue for a character with a specific accent, don’t write it out phonetically, as this can look patronizing and old-fashioned. Use odd syntax and a few choice bits of slang to convey their accent.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to let conversations hang unresolved in mid-air and move on to another scene.”

Read more dialogue tips here from Macdonald—plus check out these other pieces from this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration and tagged , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Marcy Mason McKay

Thanks, Jane. I’m like Rowena that dialogue is much easier to writer than plotting. I had a friend that said my first drafts always have my characters, naked, in a vacuum, but they’re talking up a storm.

Lexa Cain

Great tips. Writing dialog is hard for me, and this advice will help. 🙂

J. Paul Roe
J. Paul Roe

Dialogue is my favorite part to write. Gives me an excuse to talk to myself! I find it to be the most enjoyable challenge in writing because you really have to strive to let the characters develop through their word choices and verbal conflict.

Julie Petersen
Julie Petersen

Like the article, really professional tips. Writing dialogues is one of the most complicated things for me and probably for many others young writers. It’s not always easy to represent characters fully and to find your own way to do that, I will think over these tips, thank you!

Sharon Crosby

So actual article! Will definitely use the tips in my work with students, thanks!

Steve Ceaton

I always think writing dialogue is easy. But especially in script writing my editors always say it needs work. I find writing novels easier because I can get inside their heads.


I completely agree with this post. I would only add some technicalities that could make it or break it. Such as using correct dialogue tags, adjectives after those tags… Something like this https://katherinemilkovich.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/writing-style-and-dialogue/
Because unfortunately, I saw a lot of people ruining perfectly good dialogues by not following those simple writing rules.