Monday, November 7, 2011

7 Dialogue Tips

Every fiction writer knows dialogue is an important (some would say the most important) element in their storytelling. Here are a few pointers I've picked up from people far more clever than me.

  • Look over your manuscript for places emotion is expressed outside of your dialogue. The odds are that those emotions are actually explanations of one type or another.  See how the dialogue reads without it. If it doesn't read well, you may need to improve your dialogue.
  • Do you need every one of those 'he said/she said's? You might not.
  • Do you refer to your character in the same way throughout the scene? Or is it 'Charlie said' and then 'Mr. Bopper said' and then 'Chuck said'?
  • Check those adverbs. Do you need them? And (in my opinion) the answer to some of them might be 'yes'.
  • Read your dialogue out loud. It's the best way to discover if it's sounding too formal.
  • Dialogue can smoothed and polished to the point where your character's voice is lost. Beware.
  • Is that awkward dialogue really disguised exposition? 
What's your best tip for creating effective dialogue?


  1. Write the words first. Then worry about tags. Then fill in beats. (Handout on my website for more if anyone's interested.) And listen to your characters. Keep yourself out of their conversations.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. Terry; Thanks for the tips! That last one is so important, isn't it?

  3. Great tips--and a great tip from Terry, too. I tell people to think of it as transcribing a conversation you're hearing in your head.

  4. I'm going to cheat. Your tips were great, and Terry and Anne both gave good tips, too. I first transcribe the conversations in my head, like Anne said. Then I fill in beats, like Terry said. And try like hell to keep myself hiding in the bushes unseen and unheard.

  5. Elspeth - Thanks so much for these wonderful tips. Thanks to Terry and Anne, too. You are so right, Elspeth, that reading aloud is a great way to see whether one's dialogue is falling flat. What I also do to check my dialogue is read them aloud to my husband or another trusted friend. If my listener spots a problem, there is one.

  6. I liked all of these tips, Elspeth. Nice pointers all, but I especially liked the one about not polishing your character's voice away. That's so important, and it's a point seldom mentioned. I also liked (as did so many) Terry's tip about keeping yourself out of the dialogue. In my own case, when I'm writing dialogue, I have to hear it in my head. The characters' voices aren't all the same, and when I can't hear it, I can't write it. It's kinda weird that way.

  7. Another suggestion, to add on to your "read your dialogue aloud", is to have someone else read the dialogue. They're less likely to read it with the same inflection that the writer would. You can see then where you need to change things.

  8. Elspeth - that second-to-last one is solid gold - not only for dialogue but for the whole tamale. I have to watch that my characters don't use the same antiquated expressions I do!!!


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