Dialog that Delivers

Dialog is such an integral part of writing and when it's good
your writing soars,
so when it is bad,
well let's just say
it does the opposite.

Here's ten tips to keep your dialog from sounding false, too formal or flat.

1. Listen: You will often find me at the local malls or in coffee shops listening to people and writing down snippets of conversations. Why? I find it's the best way for me to review exactly how people talk.  

2. Read your dialog out loud: If you read your dialog out loud and it sounds stiff you know you've got it wrong. Easy fix: check your dialog and use contractions whenever possible. Most of us speak using contractions and shorter sentences.

3. Don't talk too much: Keep your dialog short and snappy and you'll find you keep your readers happy. Long passages of dialog are difficult to read.

4. Break up dialog with action: To prevent talking too much, break up dialog with action. Have your character sit, stand, stretch or do yoga poses. Have them carry, settle, sigh and lean. Have them do anything that will keep your reader interested. 

5. Don't use dialog to tell info already known: Pet peeve  #1 is dialog that tells the reader a lot of stuff that the other character should know already. For example: "Remember how last year when we went to the cabin and we sat on the porch. How the lake looked so calm and then the storm rose and a tornado took the house next door completely away? The whole building gone, just like that. I'd never been so frightened in my life. You said you hadn't either."Dialog might not be the way to give your reader all that information. In fact, I'm sure it isn't.

6. Don't overdo unique tags: Readers tend to skip right over he said/she said, which is a good thing. They stop long enough to get their bearings, but are not distracted. Overdoing unique tags brings focus to the tags and away from your dialog. Use sparingly: questioned, asked, inquired, squealed, squeaked, spoke, snarled, stammered, etc. 

7. Cut out unnecessary responses: I know you say, "Hello," and then your friend says, "Hello." Or you say, "Do you want coffee?" and your spouse says, "Yes," but in dialog you can often refrain from using "hello," "goodbye," "Yes, and "No." Instead, keep the dialog and action moving.

8. People argue: Yes, that's what happens in conversations. People argue and try to get their point across and insist they are right. This creates conflict. Conflict is good. Use it in your dialog whenever you can.

9. Create distinct voices: Work to distinguish all your characters by their voices. You can do this with word choice, the order in which words are spoken or by using dialect. Word of advice: go easy on dialect. A word or two is all that is necessary to let us know they are Scottish, French or from The South.

10. Finally, punctuate correctly: 
"I'm sure that's not what happened," she said. Comma inside the final quote, lower case "s" on she. "I'm sure that's not what happened." She rose. Period inside the final quote and upper case "S" on she. 
"I'm sure that's not what happened!" she said. Exclamation inside quote, and lower case "s" on she.
"I'm sure that's not what happened!" She rose. Exclamation inside quote, and upper case "S" on she.
"I'm sure that's not what happened," she said, "at least that's not how I remember it." When the sentence continues, use commas inside final quotes and after "said." 
Use single quotes inside double quotes if you are quoting someone else within the quote. 

Keep these tips in mind and you'll find yourself writing dialog that rocks your reader's world!

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com

You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook


Magdalena Ball said...

Dialog is my favourite way to progress action - it reveals relationships and allows you protagonist to respond. Your suggestions are excellent - thanks Jean.

Karen Cioffi said...

Jean, very useful list of ways to strengthen your dialog. I too find dialog a great way to progress action.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great tips Jean, and it starts with listening.

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