Five Common Errors in Writing Dialogue

Dialogue is speech between two or more characters and since most of us speak to others on a daily basis, it would seem like the easiest part of writing fiction. Not so. Lots of things can go wrong because beginning writers are over-confident and therefore don’t spend as much time studying dialogue techniques as they do studying narrative description. If you recorded a conversation among your friends and then transcribed it, the dialogue might sound realistic but it wouldn’t be much fun to read. Good dialogue mimics casual conversation but doesn’t duplicate it. Like editors of reality shows, the writer distills what in real life might be a longer, more meandering conversation to its most interesting essence.

Nowhere is the difference between showing and telling more evident than in writing dialogue. A combination of both will produce the best possible dialogue. The most common errors occur when telling is used when showing should be and when showing is used when telling should be. Here are the five most common errors:

  • Stilted dialogue because it’s “on the nose.” Ignores characterization in favor of delivering information
  • Overuse of “trip words” to start sentences: Well, Uh, Yeah, Hey, etc.
  • Misuse of taglines that identify speakers
  • Interrupting the flow of dialogue with narrative asides
  • Talking heads scene

The errors are further reviewed in the online lecture to the course.


This partial lecture came from the course The Art of Storytelling 102: Showing vs. Telling

You will learn:

  • The difference between showing and telling and when it’s good to tell instead of show
  • How to balance showing and telling to create memorable characters and realistic, seamless dialogue
  • How the right mix of showing and telling can help you establish a powerful narrative voice
  • How to enhance your story’s conflict by knowing when to show and when to tell
  • How theme differentiates drama and melodrama
  • How to writer tighter, more powerful scenes
  • How a unique style distinguishes stories that have similar plots

Learn More About our Art of Storytelling 102: Showing vs. Telling Workshop!

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