The Do’s and Don’t’s of Dialogue

 

If dialogue is written well, it can move the story forward while fleshing out your characters. It is meant to be used as a break for readers from reading long passages of narrative and add description to the scenes in a different way than narrative prose.

 

Do:

  • Do use the words: says, said, ask, asks, asked, asking

These words are transparent to the reader, meaning the reader can move along in the story without seeing these words. Said and asked, especially, don’t stop a reader.

  • Do use physical tags to show what the character is doing during dialogue. It will add emotion to the story.
  • Do use a saidism tag every 2-3 lines of dialogue between 2 people. If more than 2 people are speaking, be clear who is speaking on every line to avoid reader confusion.
  • Do use the five senses in dialogue/dialogue tags.
  • Do use he/she in place of the character’s names.
  • Do put each character’s line of dialogue on a separate new line.
  • If starting a new scene/chapter with a new character in dialogue, use their first and last name in that first line of dialogue so the reader knows who is speaking.
  • Do use punctuation in dialogue.
  • Do look at/read/review another author’s dialogue.
  • Do your research on the character’s backstory/history if you want them to speak with an accent or in a dialect you don’t use yourself. Use words like Scottish brogue to describe their conversations.
  • Do use contractions in dialogue. Write dialogue the way your characters would speak.
  • Use a combination of dialogue, thoughts, physical actions, and the five senses for well-balanced dialogue.

 

Don’t:

  • Don’t overuse saidisms that aren’t said/ask. Why? Because the reader will think the conversation is important and keep it in their head. If you’re constantly using these types of words in dialogue, it’ll be difficult for the reader to keep track of all of those important conversations. Instead, use these words sparingly and for emphasis. Example: stated, commented, agreed, inferred, whispered, yelled, argued, answered, replied, etc.
  • Don’t overuse profanity. Only have a character curse for emphasis on a rare occasion. If overused, it loses its importance.
  • Don’t have more than 4-6 lines of dialogue without any saidism tags. It will be confusing for readers to follow along, making them frustrated and want to put the story down.
  • Don’t run dialogue from multiple characters in the same paragraph. Each line of dialogue by a new speaker should be on a new line.
  • Don’t use the word speak/spoke for every line of dialogue. (See #1.)
  • Don’t try to write a character speaking in an accent or different dialect—unless you have studied it for a very long time. Accents/dialects/slang are very hard for readers to follow. Use sparingly.
  • Don’t forget the punctuation.

 

Copyright (C) 2018 by Written Dreams, LLC.

Brittiany

Brittiany has over 15 years experience in the editorial field. See her full bio on the Written Dreams website: https://writtendreams.com/

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