Writing Effective and Believable Dialogue in Your Short Story

A Mother Daughter team (presumably) walk barefoot together on the beach

One of the most challenging parts of writing is coming up with believable and meaningful dialogue. Dialect, choice of words, tone, all of these things play a role in determining if your dialogue is believable or not. Many people make the mistake of telling the reader something when they should have allowed the characters using dialogue.

Bad: Tom was very upset with Susan after she left him that night. He was alone when he needed her the most.

Good: “Susan, I cannot believe you left me alone last night. I needed you more than ever,” Tom said with a tear in his eye. Readers are smart. They will figure out more than you think, so feel free to tell less and let your characters do the explaining! Here are some common issues I have seen as well!

  • Punctuate Dialogue Correctly. Many times people abuse commas, periods and semi colons in their dialogue. It makes the dialogue clunky and hard to follow. Keep it simple.
  • Speak naturally. Do not use formal dialogue unless you are having a conversation between a professor of philosophy and a doctor. People speak with very plain words. Don’t overdo it.
  • All speech should advance the story. Revealing something new to the reader about the plot or the character.
  • If you only have a few characters, don’t use “he said” / “she said”. If the flow is clear; you can get away with not identifying the speaker if the reader is clear on who is doing the talking. If you need to use the “he said” / “she said” then be consistent with it, don’t change it every line to: he said, Said he, he spoke, etc.

Casey Quinn

Casey is a freelance writer and editor of the free online short story magazine Short Story Library. He has been published in every form of short writing (microfiction, flash fiction and short stories) and has had many articles published in various print and digital magazines.

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