I used to really suck at writing dialog. Because of this I would put it off, write stories with minimal dialog, etc. I realized that wasn’t a reasonable way to deal with the issue, so I focused a lot of extra energy on writing dialog, and improved pretty quickly. Now I consider myself half decent at it. Probably the biggest issue I still have is character voice, and I don’t even suck at that.

There are a few rules that really help, and I mean help a lot. The first one is to not use words other than said. He sighed, he gasped, he vomited, etc. They all suck. I personally use answered sometimes, and I don’t consider that egregious, but it’s the only thing other than said. Asked maybe, although you can indicate that it’s a question by adding a question mark.

Beats are another big one. Robert sat down in his chair. “What happened out there?”

You know Robert spoke. The next thing I would include would be the answer to his question, and it would be clear who said that.

Another trick is to have a piece of dialog, then an attribution, then another piece of dialog –

“Just made it,” Jasper said. “It was close, too close.”

Alternating quotes for a conversation is pretty common.

“Just made it,” Jasper said. “It was close, too close.”

“Well, thank god. I don’t know what we would have done without the medication.”

“You would have figured something out. You’re tough”

You know two people are talking, and the setup would have determined who the other one was.

Voice is the other thing to watch. How does your character talk? What kind of words do they use? What is their natural rhythm like? Do they use short, staccato sentences? Do they go on at great length, filling the air with voluminous verbiage? It can be hard, because you will naturally fall into your own rhythm, and you have to watch that, watch who is doing the talking.

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