Dialogue is important to our stories. Without it our story could be rather boring to the readers. Dialogue can add emotion such as anger, excitement, humor, etc. It can lend mystery, suspense, and terror. Dialogue can provide our stories with backbone. So it stands to reason we need to get it right.
When we edit our work, there are some things for which we need to watch. For instance, explanations that are outside the dialogue. These are generally emotions. Try cutting them and see if it reads better. If it doesn't, you may need to rewrite your dialogue.
We all know about the -ly words. Most of these are associated with adjectives which describe an emotion (angrily, lovingly, etc.). Cut as many as you can of these or rewrite it. Not all can be eliminated, but do try to eliminate as many as you can.
Speaker attributions are something you need to analyze closely. Are any of them physical impossibilities? Example: "Call me tonight," she smiled. This type of attribution can brand you as an amateur. Are there any verbs other than "said"? There can be an occasional exception, but for the most part "said" is all you need. Speaker attributions are for clarifying who is speaking. You may be able to eliminate them altogether or replace with beats. Do not overdo the beats because they can be distracting. A balance of attributions and beats is preferred.
Do not start a paragraph with a speaker attribution. Always start with dialogue and place the attribution at the first comfortable spot. Example: "Stand back," he said, "or I'll shoot." Also make sure you put the pronoun before the verb (he said). If you have several characters speaking in a scene, you can have a string of "saids" which can be monotonous. Using a beat can solve this problem.
Remember! Ellipsis is for gaps or a character's voice trailing off. An example of a gap would be when you are showing one side of a telephone conversation. Dashes are used to show an interruption.
When writing dialogue, paragraph more often, especially when it is something you want to stand out or you have new speakers.
I hope these pointers help as you self-edit your work.
Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murders
Member of: Sisters In Crime
Writers On The Move