Thirteen Secrets to Sizzling Dialogue.


HERE ARE THIRTEEN TECHNIQUES professional writers use to make their dialogue sharp, realistic and entertaining.

1.  To make fiction dialogue exciting, use questions. Questions hook the reader’s interest more than statements. Let the characters talk in questions as much as possible.


“What do you want?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Where are we going?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

2.  To make dialogue sizzling, let characters answer questions with questions. This hints at evasion, power struggles or secrets.  Each time a question is answered with another question, the tension rises.

Example 1 – Wife and Husband

“Do you still love me?”

“Why are you asking?”

“Do you still truly love me?”

“Are you suddenly doubting my love?”

“Why don’t you tell me that you still love me?”

“Do we have to talk about this now?”

“Why aren’t you answering my question?”

“What do you want me to say?”

Example 2: Police Officer and Suspect

“Where were you between ten and eleven last night?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Where were you between ten and eleven last night?”

“Where should I have been?”

“Why don’t you tell me where you were?”

“Are you accusing me of something?”

“Do you have something to hide?”

“What makes you think I have something to hide?”

3. Let the characters do something while they talk. Give them a job, a task, an assignment, whether it’s washing the dishes, mending the garden shed or cracking a safe.

4. To make fiction dialogue vivid, write it as tightly as possible, cutting superfluous words. Great fiction dialogue is less wordy than real-life conversations. One-liners have great impact.

5. To make fiction dialogue sound real, use short sentences. Real life dialogue often rambles on in long sentences, but fictional dialogue comes across as more real if the sentences are short.

6. Use tags (he said, she asked, he replied) only when they’re needed for clarity of who’s talking. If the characters are busy doing things, then you can simply write their spoken sentences before or after the action, and it’s clear who’s talking.


Elsa turned the tap off. “What now?”

Ben tightened his grip on the gun. “Give me the money.”

7. Use short words for tags: he said, she asked, he yelled, she screamed.  Avoid long words that draw attention to themselves: he expostulated, she interrogated.

8. Avoid adding adverbs to the tags.  Instead of ‘he said loudly’ write ‘he shouted’, instead of ‘she said irritably’ write ‘she snapped’, instead of ‘he said furiously’ write ‘he yelled’,  instead of ‘she said quietly’ write ‘she muttered’.  Better still, let the dialogue it self imply how something is said: “I’ve had enough, you bastard!” is clear; you don’t need to add ‘he said angrily’.

9. Add body language – posture, facial expression, movements -, especially for the non-PoV character. This contributes clarity and meaning without the need for tags.


“I don’t like this.” John scratched his ear. “Do we have to go through with it?”

Bill leant forward. “Tell me more.”

Jane twisted her necklace in her fingers. “What if someone sees us?”

Fred glanced at his watch. “Time to go.”

10. Hint at dishonesty or secrets by showing body language that contradicts what the character says. Use this technique sparingly.


“No need to hurry.” Mary drummed her fingers on the table.

Mary glanced at her watch. “Take all the time you need.”

“I can wait,” Mary assured him. Her feet jiggled and bounced.

11. Frequent cusswords can make a character appear unintelligent, so use them sparingly, if at all. You may want to reserve them for a minor character who is not overly bright, or for a character who has the weaker arguments in a confrontation and is losing his cool.

12.  Consider the person’s level of education. A high-school dropout uses a different vocabulary than a PhD graduate.  How ‘educated’ is this character’s speech?

13. Characters don’t talk the way their authors do. Think of each character’s key personality traits.

How would a person with these characteristics talk?  What kind of speech patterns reflect this personality?


A self-centred person probably uses the words ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘me’ a lot.

A timid person may preface requests and statements with an apology: “I’m sorry to bother you. I wonder if it’s possible to…”  “I’m probably wrong, but…”

An insecure person may use ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’.

A bossy person may phrase many sentences as a command. “Take a taxi.” “Call me tomorrow.”

A status-seeking person may name-drop and mention status symbols at every opportunity “Last week, the duchess told me…” “When I parked my Porsche…”

A pompous person may speak in multi-syllabic words.

Which of these techniques are you already using in your fiction? Which are new?

I look forward to your comments. If you have questions, ask and I will reply.


Please click the book cover image to read more about author/editor Rayne Hall and her books.



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