You talk. You engage in conversation. People understand you. So, with that experience, you think, in your role as a writer, it is easy to make your characters talk. Wrong. It’s a challenge.

Dialog is hard work and integral to story architecture. Too often a writer will craft dialog by channeling their own brainwaves. You don’t have two brains or two sets of life experience for the required diversity of profiles among characters. Nor do you suffer from the psychosis necessary to be inside the heads of ten people simultaneously.

For better dialog, it’s time to move away from the keyboard and get outside, so you can study people in your writer’s role, being one part stenographer, one part psychologist, and and part sociologist.

While you are out studying, pay heed to these fifteen tactics that will help you master your imagined conversation into print.

1. Dialog is diverse.

Only one character in your book can possess your personal voice; the rest of your characters must impersonate other voices. Don’t write how you talk and place your words in every character’s mouth. You must become someone else. Study the words of strangers.

2. Dialog is meant to be spoken.

When creating your stories, don’t write your dialog. Speak it out loud, and then record the words you have uttered. When finishing your book, always read the dialog aloud during the editing process. Fix it, so it becomes Talking English. Oral English and Written English are two different languages.

3. Dialog evolves out of personality.

If you have not fully defined your character, you can’t possibly be creating appropriate dialog. You are mostly likely writing your own thoughts, not your character’s. Dialog defines a character.

4. Dialog builds tension.

Ask yourself, “What is at risk?” Mere chit-chat bores readers. They want suspense and entertainment. The motivation of characters should be the genesis of their conversations. If there is no tension under development, your reader leaves your book on the nightstand and never returns.

5. Dialog doesn’t dump information for information’s sake.

Narrative and description do that. Please, no so-what conversations as in, “That building is big.” Dialog is more subtle. It reveals mood, offers glimpses, and drops clues.

6. Dialog should not be journalistic.

Newspaper-style comments are a common ailment among reporters turned writers. A reporter’s dialog is characterized by quotations of factual reinforcement or proof of a point already expressed. It does little to expose personality.

7. Dialog should be heavily scattered throughout memoirs.

Without dialog, you are likely to present a myopic view of life through your own eyes. Help us see other people’s perspective of your life by remembering dialog within the scenes of your story. In these cases, dialog in your memoir must be honest, not filtered or paraphrased by your bias.

8. Dialog must pass the relevancy test.

Use a conversation when the story calls for a character to reveal something about their personal development, needs, desires, or relationships. Re-read all your dialog to see if it can pass this test. Conversations must move the reader forward, not bog them down.

9. Dialog follows a pattern within story architecture.

Narrative introduces facts, leading to scenes. Scenes play out through characters, who act, and whose words create an emotional bond (good or bad) with readers. Scenes incorporate subtext and advance a plot. As such, dialog is a tool and has its place. Metaphorically speaking, don’t use dialog as a hammer, when a paint brush is required.

10. Dialog in print is imperfect because it represents actual oral speech.

That means your story’s conversations will often record clipped thoughts, staccato bursts, pauses, incomplete sentences, repetition, and even poor grammar.

11. Dialog sits next to identifiers that should be varied and comfortable.

Identifiers are the words that reveal which person is speaking and how. The word said is your best friend in dialog. That said (no pun intended), the four chief writing sins with regard to identifiers are 1) to use synonyms for said too often, 2) to use flowery adverbs, 3) to avoid using identifiers altogether so that the reader gets lost, and 4) to rely to the word said so much that the word becomes irritating.

12. Dialog lives alongside body language.

If you cannot imagine a person using body language with your dialog, throw the line out. It is probably just information. When people are passionate about their conversation, their hands, face, body, and legs move. Watch for it. Passion equals movement.

13. Dialog requires study.

Next time you are at a restaurant with friends study their speech. Then mimic their speech patterns. It is impossible to write without true-life experience. Get in the world. Teen-age fan fiction is full of one-sided dialog from kids who have spent too much time in the basement – alone.

14. Dialog has dual purposes.

When you are hiding a clue in dialog, the conversation has to have meaning in the present moment while simultaneously offering a hint of the future. The foreshadowing cannot stick out. You can witness shoddy execution of this principle in many popular TV crime show dramas. Dialog will be so unrelated to the current scene that you know it is a clue toward a later resolution.

15. Dialog is better in the context of a plan.

If you are writing without a proper on-paper outline, your dialog will suffer because you have not thought through all the intricacies of theme, plot points, and relevant scenes. You will end up rewriting later. Your dialog cannot connect to whole unless you know where you are going.

Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops—

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

What shall I swear by?

Do not swear at all;
Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I’ll believe thee.