April 8, 2016

3 Fundamental Rules For Writing Correct Dialogue

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In my previous post, I explained how to create conflict through dialogue.  As an editor, I see a lot of easy-to-fix issues with dialogue, especially from new writers. Today let's look at 3 guidelines to help you improve your dialogue.




Use the word "said" instead of synonyms for "said" such as hinted, grunted, exclaimed, etc.
This rule caught me by surprise when I started participating in writing workshops several years ago.  In high school (eons ago), we learned how to come up with different ways to say said.  I loved this exercise because I was good at it. The problem?  Today, we don't do that.  We use the word "said."  It's an empty word like "a" or "the," so the reader reads it without much thought.  The dialogue or scene context should show the reader how the character spoke.

Use dialogue tags instead of "said."
Although "said" works in dialogue, you don't want to overuse it.  What are dialogue tags?  Sentences showing the reader what the characters are doing while speaking. This is a great way to help the reader understand how the character sounds when they speak.

For example, which of the following examples helps us understand the character's emotions and behavior better?


  • "I will not," Adrianna said. "I don't care what Papa says."
  • “I will not.”  Adrianna crossed her arms and turned her back on the maid.  “I don’t care what Papa says.”

In the second example, the reader knows Adrianna is speaking because she's the one doing the action in the paragraph.  Plus, her actions--crossing her arms and turning her back--show us the scene as it happens and give us clues on how she sounds as she speaks.

Use separate paragraphs for each person speaking.
We learned this one in grade school, but many people have forgotten it.  In a dialogue, when the speaker changes, we start a new paragraph. In the above example, if the maid speaks or does something next, it will  be in the next paragraph.  Yes, even if she does something without speaking, it requires a new paragraph to separate it from what Adrianna said.

These three tips are just a few of the ways to improve your written dialogue. As I mentioned in the beginning, these are easy-to-fix issues.  Making the dialogue realistic is a bit harder, and I'll explore that next time.

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