English: Exclamation Colon
English: Exclamation Colon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dialogue Tips

 

  • Dialogue should do one of two things: move the plot along or reveal character
  • “Said” and “asked,” are better than the multitude of other dialogue tags such as responded, agreed, etc.
  • Better still, use the character’s action as a dialogue tag instead. “No way.” Dan pulled out his gun.
  • Or use description as a dialogue tag. Cynthia’s silk skirt swirled around her long legs. “Are you coming or not?”
  • Go easy on the exclamation points. If the dialogue is exclamatory enough, an exclamation point is unnecessary. An Exclamation point should never be used in narrative. Elmore Leonard said, “Use only one exclamation point in a novel.”
  • Don’t ever have a character tell someone something that they already know to get information across. Maybe it is something that ought to be in narrative, but be careful of an information dump.
  • Though you want dialogue to be realistic sounding, don’t copy how we really talk such as: “Hello, how are you.” “I’m fine, and you?” Leave all this greeting stuff and comments about the weather out (unless it’s important to the plot).
  • When writing, start a new paragraph every time a new person speaks or does something. This will help the reader follow what is going on.
  • Even if the conversation is between two people, put a dialogue tag in every so often so the reader knows who is talking.
  • Never have one person speak for long periods of time. When we’re talking to one another, we interrupt, change the subject, etc.
  • Be sure the reader knows where the dialogue takes place.
  • Lastly, beware of talking heads. We need to see the characters and what they are doing during the conversation. No one sits or stands perfectly still while talking, and this brings you back to the fact that you can use an action as a dialogue tag. “Phil scratched his head. “What do you expect me to do about it?”

Courtesy of Marilyn Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, under the name F.M. Meredith, and the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. http://fictionforyou.com