About Writing Dialogue

Dialogue Tags

I have a love/hate relationship with dialogue in general: I love reading it when it’s written well.

When I’m writing it, I don’t want to pause during the mental conversations that my characters are engaged in long enough to add tags or description. Hey, the conversation is in progress–no interruptions allowed, except from the characters. But without narrative something is lacking. Long dialogue passages frustrate and leave me unsatisfied. I’m frustrated reading scenes when I can’t figure out who is speaking, or being unable to identify where or when the dialogue is taking place.

When I’m reading scenes, including dialogue, I want to be in the moment, but it takes precise design to create clarity.  Who is speaking? What sort of words do the characters use? How high pitched or deep is the character’s voice? Where are the characters? What does the location feel like? Look like? Smell like? Sound like? How are the characters moving? Acting? Gesturing? What is the point of view character thinking?  When a scene can draw all that together…now that is a dialogue scene I want to read.

Things to check:

He saids/she saids may be necessary to keep from confusing the reader, especially when there are more than two characters. Name them or characterize them. Characterizing is a way of defining a character with an accent, favorite movement, affectation, or phrase. Always read through your dialogue to ensure the flow is clear, readable, understandable, and that it makes sense. Make certain a response isn’t too far from the original question or comment.

Mixing narrative with dialogue? Wonderful. Be careful not to interrupt too much of the interactive dialogue. Keep narrative limited to short descriptive actions until there is a natural breaking point to add more detailed narrative or deep point of view. Then when appropriate, begin interactive dialogue again.

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