Effective Dialogue Techniques

Evan Swensen
3 min readApr 12, 2024

In storytelling, we can compare dialogue to a delicate thread weaving through the fabric of the narrative, a tool that, when used adeptly, adds texture and color. It has been well-documented that even acclaimed authors struggle with the balance of dialogue within their works. For instance, in Stephen King’s On Writing, the revered storyteller offers advice on dialogue, emphasizing its significance in bringing stories to life. The challenge, however, arises in ensuring that dialogue does not overwhelm or underwhelm the narrative.

For example, a scene rich in dialogue yet devoid of context is like a play missing its set and stage directions. Though potentially riveting, the dialogue risks becoming a disembodied chorus of voices failing to ground the reader in the story’s reality. On the flip side, an overabundance of discussion can smother a story’s spark, transforming vibrant scenes into static descriptions that offer readers a view from afar rather than an invitation into the moment.

The remedy lies in striking a harmony between speech and the silent language of action and reaction. Dialogue, as advocated by experts like Sol Stein in Stein On Writing, is not just a means to convey information; it’s a powerful tool to reveal characters and propel the story forward. By allowing a character’s emotional reactions to interplay with their spoken words, you, the author, can gift the reader with a multi-dimensional experience, bringing your characters to life in a way that mere description cannot.

This principle is seen in practice in Ernest Hemingway’s works, where the dialogue is often terse, yet the emotional weight is palpable. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises presents a dialogue that may seem simple on the surface. Still, it is laden with unspoken tension and subtext, inviting readers to discern the depth of the characters’ relationships and inner turmoil.

Another crucial aspect is setting the scene. Just as painters frame their subjects within a landscape, giving them a place to belong, writers are encouraged to place their characters in a scene that invites interaction. This is what adds depth and richness to the terse exchanges in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, where the dialogue is as much a part of the magical environment as the spells the characters cast. It’s this immersive environment that draws readers in and makes them feel like they’re part of the story.

Therefore, writers are tasked with crafting what characters say and painting where they say it and how they feel about it. This ensures that readers are not merely overhearing a conversation but are invited into a living, breathing world. It’s a delicate balance to maintain but one that, when achieved, offers a story as rich and satisfying as the finest tapestry.

Evan Swensen
8370 Eleusis Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99502
(907) 349–2424

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Evan Swensen

Book publisher, editor, author, Author Masterminds charter member, founder of Readers and Writers Book Club, and bush pilot.