One Writer’s Journey

January 8, 2019

Daring to Dialogue: Writing Dialogue that Works

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:17 am
Tags: ,

Spice up that dialogue.

Somewhere, someone is delivering this piece of advice to a new or new-ish writer.  And, more often than not, the new writer sets out to do just that.

“Get out of my house!” she shouted.

“Why don’t I believe you?  How can you ask that after you got us both expelled?” he retorted.

In manuscript after manuscript, characters are sobbing out their dialogue, whispering, shouting, screaming, and st-stut-stuttering.  You want to create some spicy dialogue?  Quit trying to jazz up the dialogue tags.  Honestly, those are just place holders so that your reader knows who is talking.  Stick with she said and he said as much as possible. The spice should pepper the words that are spoken, not the tags that help readers keep the speakers straight.

Take a fairly simple line of dialogue.

“I hear them coming,” she hissed.

First things first, pet peeve alert.  There is not a single S in that sentence.  No one, but no one is hissing it.

Step One.  Get rid of the hissing.  And let’s add a bit more information.

“I hear them coming. They’re going to find us any second,” she said.

Our speaker and listener(s) are hiding.

Step Two. Let’s add something that has to do with setting.

“That squeak. That’s the loose board on the stairs. They’re going to find us any second,” she said.

Now we know that someone is hiding upstairs.  Phrase by phrase, we’ve made the dialogue more complex, more interesting and more informative.  And, if hissing didn’t make me a wee bit irritated, there are enough S’s that someone could actually try to hiss this.

If you still want to spice things up, do something about the dialogue tag. I’m not saying that you should go beyond said.  And don’t just chop them all off.  You don’t always need a tag but they do help readers know who is speaking.  You can also replace the tag with an action.  Again, make it meaningful.

“That squeak. That’s the loose board on the stairs. They’re going to find us any second.” She stood between the twins and the door. 

Now we know that our speaker is trying to protect two people.

When you spice up your dialogue, don’t just add fancy dialogue tags.  Instead, make your dialogue informative and make it work for your story.


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