Showing posts with label dialog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dialog. Show all posts

Friday, April 3, 2015

How to Avoid Exposition in Dialogue

Good dialogue can stick the reader right in the middle of the action.  It can reveal a lot about the characters and help pacing.  But writing dialogue can be tricky.

Today's pitfall is what I call "exposition in dialogue" or "dialogue for the benefit of the reader."  This is when two characters tell each other things they both already know and have no reason to talk about, just to give the reader important information.  It's unnatural and awkward and should generally be avoided.

Example of Exposition in Dialogue:

I'm going to exaggerate a little here to illustrate the point.

Scene:  Lila and Tom are brother and sister, both young adults.  They're together when Tom gets a phone call.  He hardly says anything, and when he hangs up, he turns to Lila.

"John Abernathy's dead."

"No," Lila said, sinking into a chair.  "John Abernathy is our grandfather.  He owned two canneries in Alaska, and I remember how bad they smelled.  Our mother fell out with him and we haven't seen him for ten years, but still, I can't believe it.  We didn't even know he was sick."  

Okay, so most of the examples in our writing aren't this bad, but I see less glaring cases all the time, and it's something we need to watch for.  These two people already know this information.  There's no reason they'd say it like this.


1)  Narrate.

"Grandpa John is dead."

"No," Lila said, sinking into a chair.  John Abernathy was their grandfather, but they hadn't seen him in years, not since he and their mother had fallen out.  They'd visited him once in Alaska, where he owned two canneries.  Lila could still smell the fish if she closed her eyes.  How could he be dead?  She hadn't even known he was sick.

2)  Argue.  Twist the conversation into an argument to give them a reason to discuss it.  Maybe your characters remember things differently.  Maybe they have different ideas about the consequences or the importance or the truth of the background information.

"Grandpa John is dead."

"No," Lila said, sinking into a chair.  "Mom's gonna be sorry now."

"It wasn't her fault they argued.  Grandpa--"

"That's just her side of the story.  We don't know what happened.  And she didn't have to cut him out of our lives completely.  Now we've lost all these years, and we'll never get them back."

"It wasn't exactly as if he was the best grandpa before, hiding himself away in Alaska.  He cared more about his canneries than he ever cared about us."

3)  Reminisce.  Have the characters take a walk down memory lane.  Be careful with this, however, as it can sound forced.

"Grandpa John is dead."

"No," said Lila, sinking into a chair.  "Dead?  He was strong as a bull."

"Ten years ago he was.  But things change."

"Remember the tour he gave us of his canneries in Alaska?"

"He let me chop the heads off the fish.  I thought it was the coolest thing."

"It was disgusting.  And the smell...but he was so proud of everything. I wish he and Mom hadn't fought.  Now it's too late.."

4)  Tell a character who doesn't know.  Bring a third character into the conversation, one who really doesn't know the information.  Use this sparingly, as it can also come across as too convenient and lazy on the author's part.

"John Abernathy's dead."

"No," Lila said, sinking into a chair.

"Who's John Abernathy?" Tom's girlfriend asked. 

"Our grandpa.  Mom's dad."

"I didn't know he was still around.  You never talk about him."

"We haven't seen him for years," Tom said.  "He does fish canning up in Alaska.  Mom had an argument with him a long time ago and wouldn't let us have anything to do with him."

"I'm so sorry."

More examples:

"Captain, if we get a whole in the hull, we'll sink!"

Uh...he's a pretty bad captain if he doesn't know this.

Solution:  be more specific:  "Captain, a whole that big will sink us in less than fifteen minutes." 

"As you know, Jake got married six months ago.  Now I can't talk to him without his wife hanging on his arm."

Solution:  rephrase to build on what the listener knows:  "Ever since Jake got married, I can't talk to him without his wife hanging on his arm."

Final Test:

When you think your dialogue is good, read it aloud.  That's often the best way to hear if something sounds unnatural.

Melinda Brasher currently teaches English as a second language in the beautiful Czech Republic.  She loves the sound of glaciers calving and the smell of old books.  Her travel articles and short fiction appear in Go Nomad, International Living, Electric Spec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others.  For an e-book collection of some of her favorite pieces, check out Leaving Home.  Visit her online at

Friday, August 16, 2013

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

You can also follower her at or on Facebook

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Show Me!

            Experienced writers have learned this less well, but less experienced writers are still learning it or have it yet to learn. Even for experienced writers it is good to review it every so often. What am I talking about? The “show, don’t tell” rule of writing. It sounds so simple, and yet it is one of the hardest to learn for some of us.

            Telling is what you see with narratives, and it is okay in the proper prospective. But you do not want to fill your book with telling your story. Your readers like action, dialog, descriptions, emotions, all the things that your readers can take and create a picture in their minds.

            Show your story. Give it characters your reader can fall in love with and want more of them. Give them a setting or location that their mind can grab hold of and feel they are right there with the characters. Make the characters speak to them and create action that keeps the story moving. Give descriptions of the setting and characters through narrative and some through dialog, but do not insult your readers by giving them every little detail. Readers like to be a bit creative themselves so give just enough to stimulate their own imaginations, and let them run with it.

            When you have fast-paced scenes, it is good to slow things down and give your reader a chance to breathe. Your story should run in waves of fast pace and slow pace. That is where the narrative comes in. You can use it to slow down the pace of the story.

            Someone once told me to read through my story; and if there are areas where I am telling, ask myself if there is a way I can show it rather than tell it. If there are, then I need to change it.

            Narratives do serve a purpose, so remember not to change all of them. Also remember, it is the author’s responsibility to create a world in which his/her readers can get lost and want more of it.

            Following are some points to remember when self-editing your work:  1) How often do you use narrative summary?  2) Which sections do you want to convert into scenes (action)?
3) Do you have any narrative summary? (You do need some.)  4) Are you describing your characters’ feelings or are you showing them?

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:  The Bible Murders
                                Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters In Crime
                      Writers on the Move

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Doubled Preposition Trouble

Are you one of those writers who have a doubled preposition personality? I have to admit that I am, and that is why I ty to be self-conscious about them and why I self-edit.

You may not be aware that you use doubled prepositions. It took me a while to pick up on it. Just what is a doubled preposition? The best way to answer this question is to give a few examples: 1) Your character sits down on the sofa; 2) A character walks over to the house; 3) Another character looks over at the girl walking  by. Sound familiar?

Of course there is the occasional tripled preposition such as: 1) looking down below at; or 2) coming on over to.

I am sure you can see what I mean after reading these few examples, but what does it mean to you as a writer? Well, it could mean having a good story rejected by an agent or publisher. It also labels you as an amateur writer or, at best, an average writer.

There is, however, one instance where doubled or tripled prepositions are accepted and even beneficial. Dialogue! In this setting it can actually be beneficial in giving your readers an impression of the character. An impression that could, if handled properly, label your character as a simple person or an uneducated person. Through this type of dialogue, you can give personal information about your character without actually saying it.

So the next time you self-edit be sure to watch for those doubled or tripled prepositions. It could mean acceptance or rejection.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murders and Sarah's Secret

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Self-editing is something every writer should do, but it means knowing how to do it. Every writer should have a good book in their library, but it shouldn't just sit on the shelf. Get it out often and use it. I like to get my book down and go through it every so often whether or not I'm doing any self-editing just for reinforcement.

A good book on self-editing will tell you not to do any editing until you have your first draft completed. Because writing and editing are two different mind sets, it's hard to concentrate on both at the same time, hence causing you not to do a complete or proper job of either process. So the right order is to write the first draft of your book first and then do your self-editing.

A thorough self-editing includes it all: grammar, punctuation, structure, dialog, point of view, interior monologue, beats, tributes, rhythm voice, and characterization. Are there any conflicting areas in your manuscripts? Do your characters sound and feel real? Do you have areas where you tell when you should be showing? Does your plot flow and have the ability to hold the readers' attention? And do you have a balance between your narrative and dialogue? I could probably think of some more points/questions you should ask yourself, but these are enough to give you an idea of the point to self-editing.

Now I know what you are thinking. But I have an editor to do my editing for me! That's true in most cases, but your book will be more polished if you edit your manuscript yourself first and then let an editor go over it again. A first-time author will sound less amateurish , and an experienced author will sound like the experienced writer he/she is..

Sound like a lot of work? You bet it is! But it could pay off in the long run.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of To Tell the Truth
Upcomng books: The Bible Murders
                           Sarah's Secret

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