Using dialogue

People talking

Speech is a powerful tool. It is the way we express ourselves, our likes, dislikes and opinions. In books, dialogue has many uses. It:

Brings the characters alive. Notice how everyone expresses themselves in different ways, uses different tones of voice, different sentence construction, chooses different words to say similar things. Think how dialogue individualises people. When you answer the phone to a friend, colleague or member of your family you usually know who it is without them telling you. You know by the tone of their voice and the way they express themselves. When you write your reader should know who is speaking before they read the name of the speaker, again by the way they express themselves. Make sure that every character in your story expresses themselves differently, speaks with their own voice.

Moves the story forward. Just a sentence of dialogue can move the story along. For example, your character and a friend have been searching for something for ages. “I’ve found it!” Emma shouted. Just those three words tell us the search is over.

Informs the reader of facts. Dialogue can be used to give your reader information about one of the characters, a recent development, something that is about to happen or any other fact they need to know.

Sets the emotional mood. A character’s speech can lighten the mood of the story or increase the drama and suspense.

Describes an action. A simple phrase such as “For goodness sake, Jenny stop fidgeting!” can tell us a lot about a character.

Foreshadows plot development. A sentence of dialogue can often tell the reader that something important is about to happen far more effectively than a chunk of narrative. “What’s that strange light in the sky?” Vicky shouted. “It’s coming nearer. It’s…it’s a spaceship!”

Sustains the reader’s interest. Children (and many adults) find dialogue more interesting than narrative so realistic dialogue can keep them interested, especially in the middle of the story where it can often go flat.

Never use dialogue just for the sake of it. It must serve a purpose and advance the plot in some way

If you’re writing for children and want more writing tips, check out my book Get Writing Children’s Fiction available from Amazon







Adding conflict to your story

people arguing

Conflict is vital to your story. Your character needs to have some conflict/problem to resolve. Conflict is what holds your reader’s interest and keeps them reading. There are three main kinds of conflict:

  • Conflict with other characters.
  • External conflict – conflict with circumstances.
  • Internal conflict – conflict with your own personality.


Conflict with other characters is the most popular conflict for writers. There are countless books based around the protagonist having problems with the family, friends, boyfriends/ partners, neighbours, etc. The most common conflict in a romance novel is when the heroine and hero clash over something.

External conflict. This forms the basis of many exciting adventure stories, for example where your protagonist is trapped in a snowstorm, stranded in the fog, involved in a train or aeroplane crash.

Internal conflict. This is when your protagonist is faced with a situation where they have to struggle against their own nature. Perhaps they are too shy, insecure, feel they are too fat, too thin.

Dual conflict. Of course these conflicts can be mixed, for example if a character is kidnapped for a ransom this would be a conflict with other characters (the kidnapper), circumstances (they are rich) and probably internal conflict (they could be scared of closed in spaces and are kept in a small room). However, there should be one major, over-riding conflict that isn’t resolved until the end.