Understand the Difference Between External and Internal Dialogue

Master the Art of Dialogue in Fiction

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Good dialogue can make or break a novel. When the dialogue between characters doesn’t ring true, it pulls the reader out of the story and reminds them that they are reading. And we don’t want that.

But when the reader turns the pages and is completely immersed in the conversation characters are having and the scene is moving forward, it means the writer has mastered the art of writing dialogue. And the reader is happy.

The cool thing is that we can all do this well.

First, dialogue can be external or internal, and I’ll explain how you can write both flawlessly.

External dialogue is what we think of when we think of dialogue. Usually it’s two people talking, but it can be more than two. External dialogue is what the characters actually say. We make dialogue a little more interesting by adding speech tags like he said, and she replied. And we add some description, but mostly it’s what characters say to each other.

Internal dialogue is what the character is thinking. It’s just as important as external dialogue because it allows the reader to get into the character’s head. An important point to remember when writing internal dialogue is that it’s not the narrator’s voice that we should hear, it’s the character’s voice. Authors also want to save internal dialogue to share the character’s most important thoughts. Readers don’t want to know everything that that a character is thinking. They want to peek into the head of the character when it’s crucial to understand the character better.

If the character has just robbed a bank, what is he thinking? Is he frightened, excited, sorry? If the character robbed the bank to pay for his father’s or child’s heart transplant, this character may cry and feel terrible for what he’s done. But if the character is not a hero, he may feel exhilarated. Either way, knowing what he’s thinking as he drives away with bags full of cash is important.

Character Speech Patterns

To write realistic dialogue, both internal and external, writers must assign the character his own speech pattern or way of speaking. Think of…

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