Dialogue Tips

Making Dialogue Believable
Common Mistakes - Using too much dialect - Being too true to the way people speak (adding um, etc.) - Sounding too stilted (Stilted: "Mother, I will not go to the prom with Charles Melhan. He is gross. His
hair is always so unpleasant." Better: "Mom, there’s no way I’m gonna go to the prom with Charlie. He’s gross. And his hair...yuck.") - Using people’s names too often in conversations ("Yes, Jane, that’s true.")

- Losing track of who said what - Unclear pronoun references (If there are three men in a room and you say "he," which "he" are you
referring to?)

- Conversations where characters tell each other what they already know ("As you know, Bill, your
mother died last year and when the will was read...")

- Don’t have a character talk about things they wouldn’t normally discuss. ("So, Mister Bond, as
long as someone doesn’t hit that big red button marked self-destruct, my plan to take over the world will be complete by the time I get on my yacht sailing for Tahiti in one hour.") - Long, boring speeches to provide information to the reader. See above—just longer… Show

versus Tell applies to dialogue as well as narrative. Having a character tell something is still telling. - All characters sound alike - Having a character hiss dialogue when there’s no "s" in it - Overusing synonyms for the word "said" (cried, howled, bellowed, whispered, stated, replied,
voiced, expressed, vented, responded, uttered, shouted, vocalized, asserted, declared…)

Tips to Improve Dialogue - Read it aloud—better yet, have someone else do it - Use contractions - Keep attributions to a minimum - Interrupt long passages of dialogue with beats or interjections from other characters - Make each character’s dialogue distinctive and you won’t need tags - Get into character—become an actor or picture an actor playing your character

Dialogue Tags: Dialogue tags show the reader who’s speaking. There are two primary types
of tags: - Speaker attribution tags attribute the dialogue to a specific person by using a form of the word "said" ("This is a speaker tag," John said.)
- Action

tags/beats show action with the dialogue; the assumption is that the person performing the action is also doing the speaking. (Mary grinned. "And this is an action tag.") To connect a tag to dialogue with a comma, the tag must show how the speaker said the dialogue and/or use a synonym for the word said. If you use a tag to show the character’s action alone, do not connect it to the dialogue with a comma. If you use an internal beat, connect both sections of the dialogue with a comma if it’s one sentence; connect only one if it’s more than one sentence.

Correct Usage:
"Take me away from all this," Eve pleaded. or Eve pleaded, "Take me away from all this." Adam laughed. "Sorry, babe, no can do." or Adam laughed, saying, "Sorry, babe, no can do." "You pig." "Hey," Adam said, "we said no commitment, remember?" "You said it," Eve protested. "I didn’t." speaker attribution tag action tag speaker and action tag a tag isn’t needed here internal beat/one sentence internal beat/two sentences implies these are two events you can’t laugh dialogue place end marks inside quotes this splits one sentence into a fragment and a full sentence this connects two full sentences with a comma

Incorrect Usage:
"Take me away from all this." Eve pleaded. Adam laughed, "Sorry, babe, no can do." "You pig". "Hey," Adam said. "We said no commitment, remember?" "You said it," Eve protested, "I didn’t." (Copyright ©

1996 by Pam McCutcheon)

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