I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My A-Z of Writing Tips: Dialogue (Top 5 Tips)

Here are my top 5 dialogue tips:
  1. unless the tag is needed to add a particular nuance to the sentence, eg "whispered," avoid getting too creative with dialogue tags. "Said" should be used most of the time. It becomes almost invisible to readers, while other dialogue tags draw attention (and not necessarily in a good way!)
  2. you don't need to say "Bert said" every time during a conversation between characters. Readers should know who is speaking through the voice used by the two speakers. If it isn't clear when you remove extra dialogue tags, revision may be needed
  3. don't just shove backstory in dialogue as a sneaky way of getting it into the chapter. Readers will know, and agents won't approve!
  4. break up dialogue with action. People rarely stand still when they talk, they usually fidget or do something. Make sure you put action beats into your blocks of dialogue
  5. please, please, please don't have your character talk in slang or dialect through the whole book. That nuance can be introduced in a different way early in the story - readers will quickly grow frustrated (and stop reading) when they have to try to work out what the characters actually mean when they say "Avvagoadthat Luv"!
How about you: Do you have any other dialogue tips? Do you like writing dialogue, or loathe it?


Cheree said...

Fantastic post. I hate the he said,, she said repetition, so I really agree that not every dialogue tag needs these especially when there's 2 speakers. & I really hate slang... I hate trying to decipher what's being said. Great tips.

Trisha said...

I don't like it when dialogue doubles as info dumping. i.e. "Hey John, why did out last night and kiss that other girl we have all hated for years and years, even since primary school, because she stole my cupcake?"

instead of "Bastard! I can't believe you kissed Lauren!!" :P

mooderino said...

hey Rachael,

good advice. i did d for dialogue too!
Moody Writing

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Wow, you're absolutely right. There was no chance in the Twilight Zone I was ever going to translate that little bit of slang at the end of your post. Great points!

Adina West said...

:-) I know exactly what your last dialogue example means, but only because I grew up reading "Let Stalk Strine" by Afferbeck Lauder.

I've always liked writing dialogue, but find inserting the action 'beats' to break up dialogue always takes me ages. I have to choreograph the whole scene in my head before I can write it.

Adina West said...

Sorry...forgot say that action beats are also a good way of letting the reader know who is talking without saying 'she said'. Just describe the character doing something, and then follow immediately with their line of dialogue before starting a new paragraph.

Grandpa said...

Thanks for the tips Rach. I quite enjoy using dialogues in my posts - esp when my grandson is writing! :)

It took me along while to figure out what the carved stone is all about...LOL!

Life on The Farm

Madeleine said...

I just read 'Never Let Me Go' and it seemed to be full of backstory exposition in the dialogue. I was appalled as it is heralded as such a good book! :O)

Paula Martin said...

Excellent tips, Rach.
My D is for dialogue too, and I've also referred to info-dumping in dialogue, similar to your 'shoving backstory in'. http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

The Words Crafter said...

Very good tips! In fact, I hadn't thought of #4, so thanks!

Her highness, Samantha Vérant said...

Yes! Overdoing accents is a very bad thing. You can add a little flavor here and there, but not too much!

Yves said...

Nice post...I agree with your tips. I enjoy writing dialogue and its usually what I have written down first.

Siv Maria said...

Thanks for the tips, dialogue always makes me crazy.

Mary Vaughn said...

All things we should know but seeing them in print from time is both needed and appreciated.
Thanks for yor great reminders.

Sheila Siler said...

Thanks for the dialogue tips, that's a challenge I still deal with.

Crystal said...

Hah! Great tips - I didn't receive many of these until later in life... Lol!! And one of the best dialogue tips kind of ties in with your tips 2 and 4. You can indicate who is speaking by having them talk, then do something, then talk: "Joe's dialogue." Joe does something (i.e., wring his hands, scuff his shoes on the ground, fiddle with an object, scratch his arm, whatever). "Joe's dialogue." The reader will know it's Joe talking without using "he said" plus you're breaking up the chit-chat with some action (which, of course, can also be used to set mood/tone or something equally clever)! ;-)

Bish Denham said...

I love writing dialog. I also like using those dreaded "ly" words in the tags, so I have watch out for that.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I love writing dialogue and these are great tips to remember!

Carol Riggs said...

Great tips to remember, very important. I love dialogue! Another thing is to be sure to resist making YA characters sound like adults. The vocab choice, and ways of phrasing things are diff! But definitely don't overdo the slang and teen-talk either. That's trying too hard. :)

Alicia Gregoire said...

This is a great post. One thing that I try to avoid when writing dialogue is having a huge narrative break in the middle of a conversation.

Ruth said...

Yes, with you on the accents. Just say they have an english accent and trust your reader to imagine it. Also, someone told me once that they like to write out a conversation straight through without any tags or beats to make it flow better. And afterwards they go back and add them.

Faith said...

I lurve writing dialogue! It comes more naturally to me than description, and I love hearing the scene play out in my head as I write. If I envision it, it helps create a more realistic conversation -- and avoid those infodumps we all hate.

Sarah P. said...

I'm a fan of writing dialogue. From a young age, my teachers told me I had a flair for it so I've enjoyed it ever since.

PJ Lincoln said...

Good advice, Rach. I think attribution tags are necessary at certain times ... when you have characters in a lot of back and forth.

I totally agree with you about information dumping in dialogue. Real people generally don't talk like that (unless they're college professors).

I try to make dialogue as close to real life as possible ... characters cutting each other off, incomplete thoughts, poor English, etc.

Great post :)

K.C. Woolf said...

Great overview again, thanks!

By the end of the month, you'll have written a booklet full of sound advice on writing.

Joyce Lansky said...

Thanks for the tips. To write effective dialogue, one needs to listen to a subject of the correct age, social economic class, etc. I find it helpful to use a lot of contractions in my dialogue and sometimes to omit pronouns at the beginning of sentences. For example, people don't typically say, "I will not go to the store" but rather, "I won't," "can't," etc. Also, if it's a teenage boy speaker, he will say as little as possible, "Not going!"

So how does one become A Crusader?


Heather said...

THis is very helpful information! Dialogue always sounds better in my head than on paper.

Sylvia van Bruggen said...

I have made a habit of saying dialogues out loud. This way I get to hear when dialogue is stifled and unnatural

Rachel Morgan said...

The is the second D post I've seen on Dialogue - and I almost, ALMOST posted on Dialogue myself! Good thing I didn't :-)

Donea Lee said...

I would just add, speak your words out loud and make sure they sound authentic, conversational and not stilted. I probably write too much dialogue sometimes...I feel it's one of my stronger areas in writing. (but maybe it's just me...) :)

Michael Offutt said...

Is it okay to have a sentence end with an exclamation point and then add the words "so and so shouted" because you know...the exclamation point means shouting. Wouldn't it just be redundant?

I'll give you an example: "More than you!" he shouts, pointing directly into a camera." page 24 of Suzanne Collins' masterpiece, "The Hunger Games". That's not the only place...she does it all over.

She also says that "starvation is never the cause of death officially. It's always the flu, or exposure to pneumonia." Yeah cause I've seen pictures of starving people in Africa and in concentration camps and they are indistinguishable from someone that died of the flu, ya know Rach...

Oh and she says, "For three days, we'd had nothing [to eat] but boiled water..." O.o... How is boiled water something other than nothing? And wouldn't it burn your mouth?


But I digress. What I really came here to say is you are awesome <3 /hugs Rach

Nofretiri said...

Have you ever tried to write a pure 'Dialogue Story'? Where dialogues only make your story move along. I've tried that in a creative writing exercise. You should try that, it's an interesting experience! :-)

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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