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How to write natural dialogue

Dialogue is the lifeblood of storytelling. It’s where characters reveal themselves, relationships develop, and plots unfold. But crafting natural, engaging dialogue can be a challenge. How do you capture the rhythm of real conversation, with all its stumbles, pauses, and unspoken emotions?

This guide equips you with the tools to write dialogue that sings. We’ll delve into techniques for creating realistic conversations, explore the power of “show, don’t tell,” and tackle the advice of literary giants like Stephen King. Along the way, you’ll be guided through an observational exercise to sharpen your ear for the nuances of human interaction.

Observational exercise: the art of eavesdropping

The best way to write natural dialogue is to listen to real conversations. Find a bustling café – a goldmine of human interaction – and settle in for some focused eavesdropping.

Here’s what to pay attention to:

  • Body language. Observe how posture, gestures, and facial expressions complement conversation. Does a character lean in intently during a heated debate? Does a nervous laugh escape someone fidgeting with their coffee cup?
  • Intonation. Note the rise and fall of voices. Does a character’s tone become clipped and fast when they’re frustrated? Does a playful lilt indicate teasing?
  • Pace and rhythm. Conversations aren’t metronomic. People talk at different speeds, interject, and sometimes speak over each other.
  • Word choice and sentence structure. Does someone pepper their speech with slang?
  • Does another character speak in formal complete sentences, or in fragments due to excitement?


At a corner table, two friends, Sarah and Ben, are catching up. Sarah, animated and gesturing with her hands, is recounting a recent holiday. Her voice rises in pitch with excitement as she describes a breathtaking vista. Ben leans back in his chair, nodding occasionally, but his furrowed brow and absent gaze suggest he might be preoccupied.

Show, don’t tell: unleash the power of subtext

Instead of bluntly stating emotions, use dialogue and its surrounding details to reveal a character’s inner world.

Telling: “Sarah felt frustrated by Ben’s lack of interest.”


“So, the view from the mountaintop? Breathtaking,” Sarah gushed, her hands mimicking the vastness of the scenery. “You wouldn’t believe it!”

Ben mumbled a noncommittal response, his eyes glued to his phone screen. A flicker of disappointment crossed Sarah’s face as she took a long sip of her lukewarm coffee.

The Stephen King rule: banishing the adverb

According to horror master Stephen King, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Overusing adverbs slows down the pace. It diminishes the impact of your writing. Powerful verbs and adjectives can replace an adverb, which is a great way to show rather than tell.


“Sarah spoke excitedly, waving her hands emphatically.”


“Sarah gushed, her hands mimicking the vastness of the scenery.”

Adverbs can be handy for adding detail. But overusing them can make your writing drag. Imagine your reader tripping over adverbs in every sentence – it wouldn’t be a smooth ride!

Tools like can help you identify adverb overload. By keeping your writing concise, you show respect for your reader’s time. After all, they deserve clear communication, not a slog through unnecessary words.

Think of it like packing light for a trip. Journalist Bill Moyers offers sage advice: “travel light” with your words. Cut the adverbs that don’t add weight to your message.

Try trimming a few adverbs from a sentence right now. Does the writing flow better?  See the difference a clean, concise sentence can make?

More tips for naturalistic dialogue

  • Contractions and informal language. Real conversations often include contractions and informal language. Use them strategically to add authenticity, but avoid making it sound forced.
  • Dialogue tags. Use dialogue tags sparingly and creatively to avoid monotony. Consider using actions or descriptions instead of “said” or “asked.”
  • Dialogue pauses. Don’t fear silence! Pauses can be loaded with unspoken tension or contemplation. Use ellipses (…) to indicate gaps in conversation.
  • Dialogue flow. Dialogue shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Integrate it seamlessly with narrative descriptions, allowing the conversation to unfold organically within the scene.

You’ll write dialogue that crackles with life by incorporating these techniques and consistently honing your observational skills. Dialogue is a conversation, not a monologue. Let your characters interact, reveal their personalities, and drive the story forward with their voices.