Dialogue is one of the essential elements in a thriller novel. How you structure it, punctuate it, and use tags will significantly impact how your readers interpret what they are reading. This blog post will go over some tips for how to write dialogue in your thriller novels so that no one is left wondering what is being said!
The importance of dialogue in a thriller novel
Dialogue is essential in any writing, but it plays an even more significant role in building tension and suspense. Dialogue can bring a character closer to the reader, helping them understand who the main protagonist is and what they will be going through.
How your characters speak can do more than just relay information; their word choice and tone have the power to convey emotions such as fear or anger, which will make readers feel those same feelings.
Body language and tone often go hand-in-hand with dialogue. Even if your character is not speaking, their body language can give you a lot of information about what they might be thinking or how they feel so that readers will have some idea as to whether this person should be trusted or feared.
Dialogue has to sound like something someone would say. Great dialogue reveals character, moves the plot forward, and provides insights to the story.
Dialogue example – fear of the unknown
“Cathy, we have reason to be concerned for Jennifer’s safety. We need to find her.”
“Safety?” Cathy’s eyes widened. “Why? What do you mean, find her? Isn’t she at work?”
“No. She never showed up.”
“I don’t understand!” Cathy’s voice went high-pitched. “Why are you concerned about her safety?”
Notice that punctuation goes inside quotations (.”) (!”) (?”).
Make it sound natural and realistic for your characters
You can write dialogue in many different ways. Writing it will come down to your personal preference, making you comfortable when writing dialogue.
One thing to always remember is what has already been said or done before this line of conversation comes up. How do people react to things? How do they respond to questions or statements directed at them? How can you use their words and body language as a way of showing who that person is, what kind of personality they have?
Write it, then read it out loud to yourself! If you feel yourself cringing a little or you can’t imagine a natural person saying it, you might have to do some editing, but welcome the insight and the opportunity to make a profound change.
Dialogue example – defeat and confusion
“I lost my baby that day,” Jennifer said in a low, flat voice. “I was ten weeks pregnant. I had a D&C, rested for a few hours, then took a cab home.”
“Oh, God…” Cathy almost choked on her tears. “I wish I’d known.” She tightened her grip on Jennifer’s arm. “I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too.” Jennifer pulled free, crossed her arms over her chest, and walked off.
Cathy followed, confused. Is she mad at me? Did I say something that hurt her feelings?
Use dialogue to show character traits, emotions, and thoughts
When writing dialogue, think about how it would sound in real life – sometimes this means different things for different people. For example, maybe your character doesn’t like to be corrected and reacts strongly to it, or perhaps they like having people think of them as knowledgeable. How will your characters speak differently? How can you use their speech and language to show who that person is?
Think about the body language within dialogue – how does it change for different situations? For example, how do people respond when someone says something mean v/s saying something nice?
Again, read it out loud. Hearing what someone is supposed to say will allow you to determine if it sounds real or fake.
Dialogue example – emotion and thought
Jennifer’s cell phone rang. She flipped it open. “Yes?”
No, not again. Jennifer’s heart sped up. “What do you want?”
“I’m in trouble. I need you to lend me some money.”
“You’re out of your mind, Jason. We’re finished. Stop calling me!” Jennifer hung up and tossed the phone on the sofa. Leave me alone, she thought, clutching her T-shirt with damp hands, trying to calm down. It drove her crazy that her ex kept calling after all this time.
Avoid using too much dialogue
Using too much conversation can make a novel come off as being flat or unrealistic. So get rid of the small talk; talking about the weather or your character’s pet, or anything trivial can read as boring to thriller readers and will slow down your novel’s pacing.
How can you add layers of depth by adding more description? How does the dialogue change when there is little to no body language? How will this affect your characters and their relationships with others? Dialogue can be great for telling a back story, as long as it is balanced with a well-thought-out description.
Other literary devices are available if your character doesn’t need to speak. What your characters don’t say can be as important as what they say. The way they move, the sounds they make, the glances they give each other, or the lack of eye contact; all help to demonstrate to the reader how they feel.
It could be something like this:
As the kayakers eagerly watched, Bev set out packages of crackers, individually wrapped cheese slices, and a few strips of jerky.
“There you go.” She gestured to the display. “There’s juice in the cooler. Bon appétit.”
Jennifer gave the food a disgruntled look. “Mmm.”
Bev winked at her. “You could always send out some smoke signals,” she quipped, “Maybe Martha Stewart will come to your rescue.”
Keep your sentences short
Keeping your sentences short is particularly important in thrillers. How can you keep your readers engaged if they have to stop every sentence or two to figure out what the characters are trying to say? This is not good in thrillers, where the pace should be quick and the action intense. You don’t want to slow down the movement with long sentences.
How will this affect their experience of reading your book?
Cutting down on dialogue tags will help keep your pace quick and allow readers to focus on what characters are saying rather than how they’re saying it.
How can you determine when this is appropriate?
It depends upon character development, plot, pacing, etc. Still, a good rule of thumb would be to cut out any dialogue tags that aren’t necessary to the story and any comment or detail that doesn’t carry the story forward. Of course, this will require a lot of editing to perfect, but once you’ve done it, your book won’t feel as “wordy” anymore.
Here is an example without a dialogue tag
Cathy nudged Jennifer. “I’m proud of you. No smokes for two days.”
“I’ve been irritable, haven’t I?”
“On and off.”
“Sorry. I don’t mean to be.”
“It’s all right. I hear it’s tough to quit.”
“Yeah, but still, I’ll work on it.”
Here are some words you should delete, avoid, or find a replacement:
Really and very: “He ran very quickly across a very long field” can be: “He dashed off through the vast field.”
That and just: if the sentence makes sense without these, cut them.
Completely, absolutely, and literally: words like these don’t add information to a sentence. For example, “The box was absolutely bursting with toys” can be “The box was bursting with toys.”
Basically and virtually: if the sentence makes sense without these, cut them.
Tips for writing the perfect dialogue scene
The first step is to make sure your format is correct; use double quotation marks for all lines of dialogue. Start a new line as it becomes a new speaker.
It can be helpful to use an action tag between lines of dialogue, but it is not always necessary – action tags tell what the character is doing as they speak and help readers to understand the context of what is being said, but sometimes, the reader will understand who is speaking even if there isn’t a tag.
-She leaned forward and whispered, “Do you think he’s here yet?” The action tag (whispered) tells us she didn’t want anyone else to hear her question.
-Harrison came out of his office. “Team.” His dark, raspy voice demanded attention.
Single quotation marks (‘ ‘) enclose a phrase that is inside another quoted phrase. When writing dialogue in your thriller novel, you’ll need to use quotes within quotes often. How do they work? How are they different from regular quote marks? Let’s take a look at an example:
“When I told him, he said, ‘How could you?’ I didn’t know what to say.”
The importance of avoiding cliches
Avoid using cliches in scenes with characters talking about their feelings. For example, “I’ve never told anyone this before” or “There’s something you should know about me.” These sentences are cliches because they have been so overused in different stories that readers will immediately suspect what is coming next – even if it means nothing at all!
Formatting dialogue correctly is one of the most important aspects of writing fiction. How you format your dialogue can significantly impact how well it reads and what mood or tone you convey to readers.
Separate each sentence in dialogue by either a comma, semi-colon, colon, new line break, or an em dash (—). Of course, how many sentences there are in each paragraph will depend entirely on which style guide for formatting dialogue you use – so make sure to read up before starting!
Correctly formatted dialogue with body language: “I love my body,” she said after running fifteen miles every morning. Her posture was proud, her voice firm.
Incorrectly formatted dialogue with body language: “I love my body,” she said after running fifteen miles every morning. “It’s strong, healthy, and alert.” Her eyes met his and lingered there for a moment before dropping to the floor.
If more than one person is speaking, each new speaker should have their paragraph even if they share only one speech verb like “replied” or “said.”
“Believe me,” he pleaded. “It’s not your fault. Do you understand that?”
“I guess … I want to, but—”
“Don’t guess. Believe it.” He turned her tearful face to his. “It’s not your fault. Okay?”
Action tags tell what the character has just done before speaking
Action tags are an alternative way to identify the speaker. These are sentences that describe the action of the character who’s talking. Like someone is running up to you with a knife, or someone is scratching their head in confusion. These words can help create suspense by adding to the tension of your story.
Example: “This looks wrong.” Anna pushed her glasses up her nose and squinted at the text.
Action tags are also helpful when transitioning from one scene to another. For example, something dramatic has happened, and now you want to focus on how everyone else feels about it. How does the protagonist feel?
Example: “Damn you!” She tossed the contract into the trash.
By adding action, readers have a much easier time visualizing the scene, making it more enjoyable. It also keeps you focused on the plot and what is happening in your story.
Another example: In the cab going home from an evening with Jennifer’s parents, Jennifer kept glancing at Steve. “What? What are you grinning at?”
Steve burst out laughing and pretended to wipe sweat from his forehead. “Just kidding,” he said as Jennifer stared straight ahead, arms crossed. “It’s just that that was the closest to a third-degree I’ve ever been.”
Jennifer cringed. “I told you.”
“Come on, baby.” Steve pulled Jennifer close. “Don’t worry. Your parents were fine. I’m sure we’ll all learn to be relaxed around each other one of these days.”
Dialogue is the key to a good thriller. It’s what makes it sound, authentic and realistic because dialogue can show so much about your characters without you having to say anything else. But if there are too many words in one sentence, or if sentences get too long from all of that dialogue, chances are readers will stop reading before they finish the book.
Make sure you use dialogue correctly by keeping it short and natural sounding for your characters – but don’t be afraid to let them talk! Remember that even though people may not have said these things out loud in real life, this isn’t reality – it’s just a story. And stories should take risks with language rather than being boring or mundane.
Hopefully, this blog post has provided some great tips on making perfect dialogue scenes without being too wordy or relying heavily on clichés.