How to Write Realistic Dialogue for Stories or Essays

, Staff Editor
Updated August 12, 2021
Woman writing dialogue on computer
    Woman writing dialogue on computer
    monkeybusinessimages / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Learning how to write dialogue that sounds realistic takes some time and dedication. Through dialogue examples and writing tips, you can learn some easy ways to include great dialogue in your stories and essays.

Tips for Writing Realistic Dialogue

Dialogue that sounds natural is an essential element of story writing. When your character’s speech sounds real, it will engage your reader. Dialogue helps readers connect to your characters and your story, so the more realistic it sounds, the more they’ll connect.

Be the Character

One of the most important tools you have is to use point of view when you’re writing dialogue. Consider the personality and motivation of the character who is speaking. Try to think like that person when you write their dialogue. This includes using slang or cultural speech patterns properly.


Consider the Recipient

Dialogue usually takes place between two characters. Who is your character talking to? This can change the way they speak. For example, you might use curse words when talking with your friends, but not when you talk to your mother.

Move the Plot

Dialogue in stories and essays won’t be exactly like real-life conversations because the dialogue you write must serve a purpose. That purpose is to move the plot forward in your story or help make a point in your essay. Each line should tell readers something about the characters or the storyline that’s important.

Keep It Short and Sweet

While you may have hours-long conversations in real life, a long dialogue in your writing can bore readers. People don’t typically drone on uninterrupted in real life, so this shouldn’t happen in your writing either.


Skip the Dialogue Tags When Possible

If your reader has to stop after every line and read “she said” or “Jenni replied,” it will slow down the pace. If your characters have distinct voices and you’ve set up the scene, readers can figure out who is saying what.

Talk to Yourself

Once you’ve written some dialogue, play each character and read it out loud to yourself. Sometimes hearing the conversation helps you see what’s right and what’s wrong with the dialogue you’ve written.

Listen to Real Conversations

Just as you can “people watch,” you can “people listen.” Sit in a busy public place and listen to the conversations happening around you. Take notes on what you notice, paying particular attention to what kinds of people talk in certain ways.

Another tactic is to ask friends and family if you can record phone conversations you have together. You can listen to these later and analyze things like the average length of sentences.


Dialogue Formatting Reminders

Whenever you write dialogue, there are a few grammar rules you need to keep in mind. Readers are used to seeing this standard format, so it helps them read quickly.

  • Any time a character or someone other than you as the narrator is speaking, what they say goes inside quotation marks.
  • Every time a new character speaks, you start a new paragraph.
  • The punctuation for the dialogue goes inside the quotation marks.
  • Use single quotation marks when the person speaking is quoting someone else.

Say What You Mean

Read through dialogue examples to get a better idea of what works and what doesn’t work in writing dialogue. The key to remember is that the dialogue you write should sound like something someone would actually say. What will your characters say next?