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.


March 5, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
Tags: , , ,

beatsI’m often a fickle reader.  To engage me, something has to happen and I don’t mean dialogue.  Dialogue may be important, after all it gives the reader insight into the character and lets us hear her voice, but it is still talking, not doing.

I know, I know, you need dialogue in your stories. People talk about what matters to them and dialogue helps us work in a wide variety of information.  But if it goes on for too long you’re going to lose me.  One of the best ways to keep a fickle reader like me engaged is to break the dialogue up with beats of action. A beat of action is any small thing the character does.  Let me show you what I mean.

“Did you pick up your prom dress?”  Jenna inserted the detonator.

“Mom’s getting it on the way home from the embassy.” Kira scratched her eyebrow.

We have two beats of action:  1) inserting the detonator and 2) eyebrow scratching.  And doesn’t the action make the dialogue more interesting?  Yeah, I thought so too.

In addition to adding some action, these beats help us eliminate dialogue tags (he said, she said).  Sometimes you’re still going to need a tag to keep your reader from being confused about whose peaking but these beats can often take the place of a tag.  Above, you know exactly which girl is asking about the dress.  No confusion.

The other problem with dialogue tags is that when we writers use too many we are tempted to spece them up. She whispered.  He hollered.  She hissed.  The problem is that we see said so often that we skim right over it, mentally grabbing that tiny bit of information (speaker is…) and moving on.  Anything other than said runs the risk of pulling the reader out of the story, especially if you have your character hissing something that can’t actually be hissed.

Beats of action.  They keep your dialogue moving and fickle readers reading.  Nuf said.



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