Writing dialogue seems like it would be so easy. We talk all the time, right? How hard could it be to just write it down?

But it takes a little more than that to make dialogue seem real. Frequently, the dialogue we imagine for our characters sounds stilted or overly formal. That’s partly because, when we’re talking, we put in a lot of “ums” and “wells” and “I means.” We stutter and interrupt ourselves and each other.

Now, if we added all of those “ums” and interruptions on the page, our dialogue would go too far in the other direction. Our characters would seem scattered and difficult to understand. But a smattering of realistic hesitations and interruptions can bring dialogue to life. Check out this example:

“There is good news, however,” Crevan says. “Or, well, perhaps it’s not good news. Except that it is, if you think about it from our perspective.”

“Crevan,” Conran says patiently. “What is the news, good or bad?”

Much gets revealed through Crevan’s hemming and hawing, no?

One last tip: before you click “save,” try reading your dialogue aloud, as if you’re acting in a play. Get someone to read with you, if you can. Make note of any lines that feel awkward, and pay attention to what’s flowing!

Nikki is a former literary agent, and now finds so much joy in her work for kn literary, as well as her time writing craft and magic books. She’d love to hear about what you’re working on! Fill out our questionnaire to sign up for a free chat.

Kelly Notaras is the founder of kn literary arts and the author of THE BOOK YOU WERE BORN TO WRITE: Everything You Need to (Finally) Get Your Wisdom Onto the Page and Into the World, published by Hay House. An editor for 20 years, she’s worked at HarperCollins, Penguin, Hyperion and Sounds True. She speaks regularly at the Hay House Writer’s Workshops and offers consultation by appointment. Find out more about how she can help you with your book.