Language: Speech

I’ve recently started experimenting a lot more with dialogue in my writing. I have a tendency to write long blocks of text, which I think stems from my experience of essay writing. Speech is important, however, because it helps you to develop your characters, explore their personalities, and break up those sections of writing that some of us find it really hard to avoid. It’s interesting to see just how much we can explain through our characters’ words – as long as we practice the skill.

This month’s theme is language. Today, we’re going to think about some of the ways that writers can make speech a more central part of their writing.

Try Writing a Whole Piece in only Dialogue

Here’s a challenge to get you immediately thinking about the power of speech. Write a poem or story using nothing but speech – no descriptions, no “he said/she said”, just a couple of characters talking to one another. This will get you thinking about how your characters interact with one another. It will also show you how your characters’ words and the punctuation you use can affect the mood of their speech.

Say your Dialogue out Loud

This is a useful trick for those of us who struggle to integrate natural sounding speech into our writing. Read it out loud. That’s the simplest way for you to tell whether your characters are talking as people in the real world talk to one another. It also allows you to see whether the conversation flows and makes sense.

Use Contractions, Slang and Nicknames

… When you think it sounds appropriate. These are all ways that you can make your speech seem more natural. Contractions are when two (or more) words are combined to form a single shorter word (for example: they and are become they’re). Slang can make your characters sound less formal, and so can make their voice distinct from your other paragraphs. Nicknames, just like in everyday life, are common ways for characters to refer to one another. They can also provide a certain mood in the dialogue – for instance, Alexander’s mum might only use his full name when she’s angry with him.

Think About the Sound of Your Character’s Voice

Each of your characters will have a distinct voice. They may have a strong accent, or they may talk differently from everyone else in some way (think Yoda from Star Wars). If you want to portray an accent, think carefully about how you’re going to write it: it might be all right to ‘ave a character ‘oo misses a few letters outta words, but too many misspellings may confuse your readers or put them off.

These are just a few ways that have helped me to improve the dialogue in my writing. What helps you to get your speech right?

This month’s theme is LANGUAGE. If you have written something that you would like me to share on this blog on the theme of language, then please post a link in the comments or email me on with the subject: Language.


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