Dialogue tips

typewriter2.pngHaving characters speak to one another in a story offers a interactive dance of thrust and parry with words. You may not realize, however, that dialogue also provides another means to reveal points of your story, expands on your character, and allows a writer to use conversation to tell a story.

Of course, you should try to avoid using the word ‘said’, if possible. Overuse of any word on a page leaves a reader strained. Instead, consider using verbs that show action as to what the character is doing. This includes expression, tone, mannerisms, or even thoughts.

An example:

“You can’t be serious!” Tom said in surprise. “You tell me to not use the word said? Are you crazy?”

Calmly, she said, “Indeed, Tom. The word ‘said’ generalizes and simplifies dialogue.”

Instead use:

“You can’t be serious!” Tom gasped with eyes wide and jaw dropping. “You tell me to not use the word said? Are you crazy?”

Nodding, her reply maintained calm to his storm. “Indeed, Tom. The word ‘said’ generalizes and simplifies dialogue.”

As you can see, the second dialogue never mentions the act of speaking. Only verbs to explain what the characters are doing at the time of speaking is added. Showing actions or sharing thoughts can also imply more that is going on as well.

When you include more than two people in discourse, you will find topics get fuzzy as to who is speaking when. These sentences can then be broken up with the same technique.

For instance:

Tom frowned, tapping fingers in growing agitation. “I’m not convinced.”

“Convinced of what?” Harry interjected. “The whole subject is simple; avoid the word ‘said’. How hard can it be?”

“I have to agree with Tom here.” Dick, who remained quiet up until now, added his own opinion. “How can the reader tell who is speaking to who and when?”

Rolling eyes at the both of them, Harry sighed. “Because the actions will reveal that to the reader. Not once are we mentioning the word ‘said’. See? It’s easy.”

The two men looked at one another in surprise.

Let your characters tell the story. When pressed to explain pieces of your story, let the characters do this for you. This method allows for a question/answer conversation, as well as connecting the reader on a more personal basis into the story.Through discourse, character take part in being storytellers, sharing their point of view to the story.

Take a moment to listen to people talk. You will realize that mannerisms, tone, and accent make up a character as much as their appearance. This character might have a southern drawl, while this one might carry a speech impediment. Another character tends to spit when they talk, while this character has a sultry, sexy voice that makes the ladies swoon.

Humans use as much facial expression and body language to speak as they do with words. Leaning forwards shows interests, while finger tapping illustrates annoyance. Fussing with hair gives away sexual attraction. Pursed or even tight lips can tell a character as much to someone’s thoughts in many cases.   Some people even have habits that makes them unique such as eye twitching, a smoking habit, chewed fingernails, or something small like a nervous way of brushing aside their hair.
Writing Prompt: 

A neat exercise is watch a movie, and paying attention to the conversations you see. Watch for mannerisms, tone inflection, and subtle emotion playing out before you. Try to write out the scene and see where this plays out.


One Reply to “Dialogue tips”

  1. This seems so obvious when I read it, yet I simply have not been doing these things. D-oh! This is especially helpful right now, as I’m working on a graphic novel. (They use tons of dialogue).


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