I was not always good at writing dialogue. I was okay at the dialogue itself, but not so good at certain technical parts. I was recently reminded of the following three important aspects of dialogue by other writer blogs.
Listen to Real People Speak
You know cheesy dialogue when you hear it in a movie, right? You’ve probably even read some cheesy dialogue. Or maybe you’ve read a conversation that sounded forced or unnatural. It’s probably because the written dialogue doesn’t reflect how real people speak.
The Write Practice blog has a great article providing 16 insights to realistic dialogue.
When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure how to portray character thoughts. Putting them in quotation marks didn’t seem right because it made it seem the character was saying the thoughts out loud. After much struggle and research, I finally figured it out. The most important point you need to take away from this is internal thoughts are not dialogue, so don’t use quotation marks around them.
So how do you portray your character’s thoughts? I italicize them. And because I’m using deep PoV as my storytelling style, I don’t need to add he or she thought afterward. Jami Gold’s blog has a good example as well as other good tips for writing internal thoughts.
Creative Dialogue Tags
A dialogue tag is the phrase before, after, or in the middle of your dialogue. The best example is the tag said. When I first began writing, I used a lot of creative dialogue tags. I thought these tags made me clever. Later, I learned they were often redundant and it was better to use simple dialogue tags or action beats instead. For example, instead of:
“First, you put the bread in the toaster. Then you wait about a minute or so until the toast pops up,” he droned.
“First, you put the bread in the toaster. Then you wait about a minute or so until the toast pops up,” he said.
Your dialogue should speak for itself. You shouldn’t have to use creative tags like droned, bellowed, pleaded, grumbled, growled, whined, etc. Said is an almost invisible dialogue tag to the reader. They glance at it and know who’s speaking without being taken out of the story by a quirky or redundant dialogue tag.
You don’t want to use said as your dialogue tag all the time, though. You can use action beats instead. For example, instead of:
“Leave her alone!” Mack bellowed.
Mack shoved his way between them. “Leave her alone!”
Using the tag bellowed is redundant because we can already tell by the exclamation point that he is yelling. We can tell who’s speaking because of the action beat of Mack shoving his way in. This way, the reader doesn’t just hear his words, they see his actions.
There is more information about dialogue tags on Jami Gold’s blog (an excellent blog every writer should follow).
There is a lot to think about when writing dialogue. These three aspects are just the three I was reminded of most recently. What are your thoughts on them? Do you have any other tips on writing dialogue?