Writing Good Dialogue: Make sure exposition sounds like conversation

1066564_gossip_girls_1As I’m going through my proof copy of “The King’s Sons” for one last extensive edit before a final proofing (so excited to announce a release date and reveal the cover designed by Brad Covey on April 1st!), I’m noticing some dialogue problems in chapter two.

The good news: the dialogue issues have been a relatively simple fix. The just-as-good news: the issues were all related to the same problem, and I realized I could share that problem with y’all as a snippet of some good creative writing policies.


I’ve written before about how I include backstory in my novels, and what I’ve found works for me and what doesn’t. Well, I found in my WIP that I had dialogue issues with exposition.

Personally, I feel that dialogue can be a fantastic way to clue readers in about background information they need to know. It’s great to have one character explaining things to another character, or to have two friends reminiscing about a past, etc. But it can be really tricky to do the right way. So here are some tips on how to effectively include exposition within dialogue.

  • It has to sound like someone’s talking, not like someone wrote a paragraph. And that was my problem. There were spots (sentences here and there) where the dialogue sounded a bit too much like an essay. Like a written snippet on a topic and not a verbal explanation. People don’t talk like they write. We don’t explain something extemporaneously in speech the way we would if we sat to write a paragraph about that same information. You should never write dialogue so that it sounds more or less the same as your narrative, descriptive segments.
  • You need a natural flow into, through, and from, your expository segment. Nothing bugs me more than reading exposition in dialogue that feels forced. You know: when there’s no real reason for the characters to be talking about this topic except for the fact that the author needs them to talk about it. It has to sound natural.
  • Remember that as the author, something that sounds natural to you might not sound that way for your readers. This is why beta readers are so very important! If unnatural sounding dialogue at parts is a problem with your writing, they’ll clue you in so that you can fix it.




6 responses to “Writing Good Dialogue: Make sure exposition sounds like conversation

  1. I am struggling with dialogue in my current book. As in the lack of. I wrote a plot heavy novel, but you barely know what my characters are like, which is really why I need better dialogue. Argh!

    • some books have more dialogue than others… if you feel like you need more/better dialogue for characterization then you probably do, but I always say the first step to fixing the problem is knowing it’s there 🙂 You can totally fix it, Michelle! (That same issue was actually a big problem in my first novel. I was just too lazy to fix it because the plot had major problems too, so I called it a wash. If your plot holds up everything else is tweakable!)

  2. Excellent advice and nicely put. Convincing dialogue can be hard to write. I find one trick is to read it back – you can do it in your head but in the character’s voice. If it doesn’t sound like someone talking then it isn’t right.

  3. I’m glad to hear you’re WIP is going well.

    I agree with your points except for the first one. I don’t like hard ‘never’ rules. For instance, an author can choose to have a character speak like they write as a character trait.

    • oh, most certainly, Brian! when I wrote that I guess I was thinking that people in general write much more formally than they speak and if characters are speaking that way it won’t sound natural. It’s possible to pull it off though. I’m think of Frasier and Niles Crane…. It works there because of their background and because other people remark how pompous they are, haha….

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