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When you’re writing dialogue for every character, it can be hard to make them sound different and genuine. They can come off sounding robotic, generic, and dull if you aren’t careful. Thankfully, there are a few easy tricks you can use to avoid such issues.


No One Speaks With Completely Correct Grammar

Speech concept art of a brain made into a maze game

Think of the last conversation you had IRL. This was probably with a friend, family member, or coworker; people who you interact with on a regular basis. It’s highly unlikely that you and all of these people speak in full sentences when conversing—that takes too long. You use abbreviations, slang, and inside jokes to covey things to one another in a manner more efficient than the phases you’re reading right now.

Language is a tool for transmitting information to others who use the same verbal tools that we know. Much like there’s more than one way to use a pair of pliers, we tend to use tools how we see fit and based on what the job requires. In the case of conversations, the shorter the sentences, the better—especially if you (or your characters) have a lot to do.

Example of Incorrect Grammar Dialogue

Two men walk by one another along a busy sidewalk and one bumps into the other. The bumped individual turns to the other and says, “Oi! I’m walkin’ heeeeere!”

The other man turns and responds, “Ah, don’t get ya tie in a twist, bub.” The two then part ways, eager to get on with their respective business.


Vary Sentence Length to Help Differentiate Characters

Paper people with colorful blank dialog speech bubbles. Dialogue concept

There are tons of ways you can make characters sound different, although one of my favorite techniques for doing so is to make certain characters speak in shorter or longer phrases. This is a simple way to make a notable difference while retaining previous information. As such, this method can be used as you’re editing a draft just as easily as when you’re writing dialogue for it.

If your character has traits like being impatient, irritated, depressed, or angry: try shortening their spoken sentences. People with the aforementioned qualities tend to be less engaging as they probably don’t want to talk to most people at that given time.

Conversely, if your character has traits like being scholarly, flirty, parental, or authoritative: try lengthening the sentences in their dialogue. Such qualities usually result in people being long-winded in conversation or trying to meet a specific goal—which often requires more verbal work.

Example of Varied Sentence Length Dialogue

A mother sits down on the couch next to her daughter and tries to console her about failing an exam, “It’s alright, Carla, you really did your best, and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters! Like Mister Smith said when he gave you your exam results, you can retake it and there won’t be any repercussions! It’ll be like you never failed the first exam.”

“But mom…” Carla sniffed while wiping away her tears with a handkerchief. “The retake day is on Shelly’s birthday! I’ll miss the party. I can’t bail on her like that! She’d be so upset…”


Imperfections Make for More Interesting Characters

Symbol of a dialogue formed by a group of people. 3D Rendering

As you’re trying to convey important information to your reader through dialogue, you want to be as clear and to the point as possible. However, some people are bad at doing this in the real world. Therefore, some of your characters should be the same. Having a character bungle what they’re trying to say can add organic conflict to a situation as well as make that character more relatable.

We’ve all misspoken here and there…or more often. Writing dialogue for imperfect creatures such as humans sometimes means purposefully making mistakes. Add a stutter for added unclarity—or another verbal impediment.

Improperly communicating can involve mistakes such as forgetting to mention crucial information, mixing up details, or exaggerating to the point where what’s being said is a lie. Depending on the scene, the characters, and your goals, you can be lighthanded or heavyhanded with this technique. Ask yourself, ‘How badly do I want this character to fuck up?’

Example of a Character Fucking up a Conversation

A scientist—flustered from being overworked—catches up with the head researcher in a hallway to relay important information about a recent experiment, “Doctor Johnson, t-the results are in! W-we found that, u-uh…” the scientist hastily flips through the clipboard in their hands, “The blue cubes blinked twice while the red cubes blinked…uh, thrice! No, four times! The red cubes blinked four times.”

“Great, thanks. I’ve got a meeting to get to, so excuse me. I’ll update the shareholders with this information,” the head researcher then passes through a nearby door beyond which awaits a group of suit-clad businesspeople.

“Whew, I caught them just in time…wait,” the scientist flips through their clipboard again, “It was the BLUE cubes that blinked four times…not the red ones…” The erroneous individual then holds their face in their hands in woe. The shareholders would be furious at the lack of progress, but not half as so as the head researcher who is notoriously severe when punishing those who pass along incorrect information.

Overcoming common writing pitfalls, such as writing all of your characters the same and unrealistically, needs to be on your to-do list as a writer. Writing dialogue can be particularly difficult if you’re a more prose-heavy author, but practice makes perfect! Don’t worry if you think your story sounds stupid—99% of the time, that’s only a problem YOU have with your writing. It’s highly unlikely that your content is as bad as your anxiety is leading you to believe. Don’t give up; instead, give into your creative urges to write, write, and write some more!


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By Reyadh Rahaman

Reyadh Rahaman is a fiend who bleeds tales from his fingertips more than he writes them. He scribes stories of speculative fiction: fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Also writes poetry for fun, but is not a poet; just a demon whispering rhythmic incantations.​Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, he's been writing full time since the beginning of 2020, however, has worked in various creative fields (TV production, photography, etc.) since 2010.

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