Let your business writing speak for itself
Dialogue lies at the heart of effective storytelling. It’s one of the most important tools in what’s referred to as characterisation in creative writing – and a fantastic strategy for making your business writing more believable. When you can hear someone speaking from the page, the chance is you’ll be able to empathise, or at least understand where that person is coming from.
Business writing is typically done almost exclusively in dialogue-free prose, which is a shame. Let’s take a look at how dialogue actually works in bringing characters to life, and how real-life conversations elevate professional content considerably.
Dialogue in creative writing and television
Imagine your favourite TV show or novel completely devoid of dialogue. Essentially, still pictures with a voice narrating the actions on top – or never-ending prose with no conversational breaks. As if you were stuck in an eternal presentation with no coffee breaks, no bathroom breaks and no Q&A slots.
Dialogue is the essence of television and it’s pivotal in creative writing. It tends to be the things we remember; there’s a reason quotes are so immensely popular, even when they’re fictional. And, interestingly, quotes are used regularly in business contexts, too.
But when it comes to actually including dialogue as part of the story, there’s no doubt that professionally targeted writing has a long way to go.
The thing about dialogue is it doesn’t just provide a much-needed break from the prose itself. It’s also an essential component in getting to know the different characters in a novel, film or series. Imagine a single narrator describing all the characters in Vikings or The Lord of The Rings – from a single point of view, and with a single voice. How likely is it you’d feel like you really knew Ragnar or Frodo the way their dialogue allows you to?
The different types of dialogue
Dialogue comes in a range of different variations. The two most effective types for business writing purposes are direct and summary dialogue. These give your reader more context in the stories you’re telling, and often makes them feel as if they’re standing in the room or situation you’re describing to them. They also work well in professional prose.
In direct dialogue, you quite simply record a conversation the way it’s played out – whether it happened in real life or you’re making it up for effect. It lets the audience watch the dialogue as it unfolds, and gives way to considerable characterisation; the words, pacing and focus someone chooses in their speech says a lot about them. This is also why it’s important for you to stay true to the people speaking when you include dialogue in your writing.
Here’s an example of a direct dialogue:
‘I don’t think this is any good,’ he said. He was looking down at the report we’d just presented to him, frowning, and I remember mustering up a deep breath.
‘Why don’t you think it’s any good?’
‘It just doesn’t fit with their brand, does it?’
‘I mean, it just doesn’t.’
This dialogue could fit well in an article about unclear feedback, a blog post about poor leadership or a LinkedIn post about a disappointing day at work. It immediately brings the reader along for the action.
In summary dialogue, you sum up the conversation you’d like to use for your writing in a prose format. While this doesn’t make it as easy for the reader to listen in, it works perfectly in the pieces where you’d like to stay with your argument, without deviating into a direct conversation.
In this example, you can see how the conversation about would have gone in summary dialogue format,
I remember how tired I was that day. We’d been up all night working on the presentation and the pitch. When my boss looked down at our report after we’d finished, frowning, my heart sank. He told us it wasn’t any good – all that work we’d put it wasn’t any good for him. When I asked him why, he couldn’t answer.
Summary dialogue lends itself to more internal reflection – while still helping in strengthening the characters in your business writing stories.
As both of these examples show, professional dialogue shouldn’t just be used as inspiration for your content. You should be using it as parts of that content in its own right.
Picking the right dialogue for your message
Dialogue works well in a number of different content types. You can use them on social media, in native pieces, and in more creative musings. It’s important to remember that just as all other components of the writing craft, dialogue is a tool – and the tool should match the underlying message of what you want to convey.
We touched on this briefly above – the purpose and format of your content should guide the type of dialogue you use in it.
For introspection, summary dialogue might be better. For presentations or painting a scene of an experience, direct dialogue is a more natural choice.
Beyond this, remember to examine the purpose of your writing. Do you want the reader to feel as if they’re sitting in the room next to you? Do you want to leave them reflecting and unpacking the story you’ve just told them? Do you want them to feel as if they know each character in the story like they know their best friends? Do you want them to feel as if they know and understand you?
If you make sure to start with the reason for your story, and the effect you’d like it to have, dialogue can have a considerable impact on the reader’s interpretation of it. They’ll be more likely to remember what you have to say – and they’ll be more likely to understand where each character is coming from. By letting your writing speak for itself, you can effectively close the gap between yourself and your reader, and create more interesting and unique content for your business.
Want to start using dialogue in your business writing? Check out the 13-minute tutorial here.