Writing Dialogue (Repost)

Writing dialogue isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. It was one of the areas I was dinged on when I first submitted my manuscript. My dialogue dragged. Basically I wrote out conversations just like real people talk. After taking a few classes and looking at how other authors wrote in published books, I did get a grasp on what the literary agent was saying.  My dialogue was weighing the story down and offering unnecessary detail. It caused everything to come to a stop.

Fictional speech is more focused and coherent than real speech. Fictional speech also has to be purposeful. You can’t just rant and rave about the newest fashion with your friends unless it’s an integral part of the story providing information that you are going to need later. Your dialogue should be evoking something from a character or moving the story forward. It also needs to be seamlessly integrated into the story. Told you there was  more to it than you would think.

There are special rules of punctuation that are used to separate dialogue from other texts and signify who is talking. These rules are pretty standard and if you pick up any novel and turn to a page with dialogue you will see them in use.

  1. Direct quotations are set apart by using quotation marks.
  2. Alternating speakers are set apart by paragraph breaks.
  3. All quotations begin with a capital letter.

Dialogue tags are not part of a quote and should not be included in the quotation marks. They  are necessary to identify who is speaking and to convey information that isn’t clear. A character tag usually includes the character’s name and some version of said, unless conveying information that isn’t clear.
e.g.   “I love you,” Mary said.      vs.    “I love you,” Mary sobbed.

Dialogue tags should be used sparingly. You don’t want to bog down your story with he said, she said. Use them only when necessary to inform the reader who is speaking or to convey feelings.

If two characters are in a short conversation you should probably be able to get by with identifying both at the beginning of the conversation without adding additional tags. If you’ve written a long conversation between two characters, you may need to add tags ever so often to help the reader keep up with who is talking. It isn’t fun when you have to stop and go back to the top of the page and count by two’s to figure out who is saying what. You also may want to use the tags to convey feelings. Mary may have gotten angry in the middle of the conversation and you need to add a tag to suggest this.

Writing Dialogue (Repost)

2 thoughts on “Writing Dialogue (Repost)

  1. I actually have a follow up post that talks about seamlessly integrating dialogue into the scene and avoiding the talking head syndrome(loved your blog on talking heads
    by the way, very enlightening). I wrote on dialogue when I first started this blog and got no views or responses. It is really good info- I basically blog what I learn from my mistakes and research. I’ve also taken a few online classes. I still struggle with it but it’s much better than it was. Thank you!


  2. quintessentialeditor says:

    Great post! As a writer I struggled with over-tagging dialogue. As an editor I found out I wasn’t alone. I try to encourage writers to read their dialogue out loud. It’s simple, but man does it give you an ear for the flow of your dialogue. If those attribution tags become stumbling blocks when read out loud, it’s time to chop them away.

    You can also toss non-attributive beats into the dialogue to establish who is saying what and prevent the ever ominous floating head syndrome. Mary swiveled around on her heels so rapidly her head almost flew off. “You want to say that to my face?” (No real attribution needed because you led the dialogue with a beat indicating both who was going to talk and what they were doing.)

    Again, awesome post. Best of luck as you take your lumps in the writing process (I’m right there with you).


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