I ran across a piece written by Valerie Allen concerning the basics of dialogue that I’d like to share with my fellow writers. Her background is extensive, she is a veteran author and director of several book fairs in Florida. She is also a popular speaker at writers’ conferences, and is co-founder of Authors for Authors. Below is her advice on creating dialogue.

bigstockpeopletalkingThere are no absolute rules about creating good dialogue, but some guidelines help shape a story. Well written dialogue goes unnoticed by the reader because it sounds right. It is not stiff. It is not artificial. It is written to sound as if someone is speaking.
Dialogue has three main functions:
1. Reveal more about a character
2. Establish the relationship of one character to another
3. Move the story forward
Some basic guidelines for using good dialogue include
  • Create a new, indented paragraph every time a different character speaks
  • If more than one speaker is involved in the conversation use his/her name to clarify who is speaking
  • Use the noun-verb form (Valerie said not said Valerie)
  • If it is a statement the tag is said (“Valerie is here,” she said.)
  • If it is a question, the tag is asked (“Valerie, where are you?” she asked.)
  • Use movement, a gesture, or a tag instead of said/asked (Valerie opened the door. “Here I am.”)
  • Use vocabulary appropriate to the age, education, and culture of the speaker, as well as the context of the story
  • Write conversation as it is spoken, not structured as standard written English
  • Dialogue is primarily about what the speaker believes his/her problems or conflicts to be
  • Punctuate so it is easily read without confusion
(George, the alligator bit me.
George, the alligator, bit me.
George! The alligator bit me.)
  • Do not have characters continuously address each other by name
  • Do not have characters giving each other information they already know; use exposition (Not: Valerie, I remember on your birthday, July 20th, we went on a picnic.) Valerie likely knows when her birthday is!
  • Avoid dialects; use just a few telltale words to give the flavor of the dialect and then return to standard English
  • Contractions make dialogue more natural (It’s; I’ll; We’re)
  • Use apostrophes for missing letters (don’t, you’ve, goin’)
  • Incomplete sentences are common in dialogue
(“Where are we goin’?”
“Out.”
“Where out?”
“Quiet, or you’re not goin’.”)
Good dialogue should mimic common speech patterns to keep the story believable and fast paced.