I know this seems like a ridiculous problem to even have to mention, but the truth is that I have edited books with no dialogue. This is a serious problem.
Of course, if you’re writing a science textbook, you probably don’t need to add dialogue. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume we’re talking specifically about nonfiction or fiction books that involve people/characters.
Since this is a basic writing essential, I’ll keep to the basics in this post.
1) What is dialogue?
Dialogue is spoken word between any number of characters/people. Simple and easy.
2) Why is dialogue important?
Dialogue is not only important; it’s essential if you want readers to connect with your story. Dialogue brings the story to life as readers hear the characters interacting with each other. Dialogue makes characters come to life as real people and helps bring the scene to life through the sense of hearing.
“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” – Lewis Carroll
Dialogue is so essential that it can often make or break your story. Through dialogue, your characters and plot will appear either interesting and appealing or boring and fake. I assume you don’t want readers thinking your book is boring.
One thing to keep in mind is that you should not write dialogue exactly how you speak. Why? Well, have you ever listened to an actual conversation taking place in, for example, Starbucks? It’s usually pretty boring! No one wants to read, “Hi” and “Goodbye” all the time. So, when writing dialogue, you as the author need to make sure it sounds realistic without actually being 100% realistic. The best way to tell if your dialogue is good is if you read the scene out loud.
Does it sound believable? Is it boring?
Ask your beta readers what they think. If dialogue is boring or unbelievable, readers will put your book down.
I am almost inclined to say that you can never have too much dialogue. I say almost, because there are definitely cases where you can have too much dialogue. A book full of characters talking to each other without any description or narration probably isn’t going to be very interesting to read. Still, I find myself adding more dialogue that I suggest taking out, specifically when it comes to issues of show versus tell. Narrating a scene is telling; using dialogue to relay actions and plot is showing.
I have much more to say about dialogue, but as a basic rule just remember that dialogue is important all the way from learning how to write it to learning how to properly punctuate it.
For more on dialogue, check out these great articles: