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5 Tips to Writing Dialogue

 As writers we all know we will need to write dialogue sooner or later. We can't avoid it. People are going to speak in your books and that is what dialogue is--the characters having a conversation. Writing dialogue should be simple for writers. We all have to do it ourselves on a dialy basis and we have all read it. Dialogue should be simple to write, but when you get right down to it, there are certain rules and guidelines you need to follow.  Here are five easy tips to consider as you write dialogue.

  1. Make your characters sound different. Nothing is worse in a book than having all the characters sound alike. First of all, it is not realistic. Listen to the people around you. No one talks or sounds just the same. So how do you do that? How can you make them sound different? Again, listen to the people around you. Notice the different ways they speak and then use that in your story. Just as an educated teacher is going to sound very different from a high school student, a duchess or duke in the past would have spoken very differently than the kitchen maid.
  2. Keep in mind your character’s sex.  There has been a lot of talk about the differences in how men and women speak. Many writers I know say men are much more blunt in their language than women. They’re more used to giving orders or just expecting their wishes to be carried out. I’m not sure that works anymore. Many women can be just as blunt as men and are just as forceful. But pay attention to some of those small differences as you write and keep in mind possible differences in how men and women sound.
  3. Don’t get too carried away with dialects.  This is one I have had to watch myself. Overusing dialect can sometimes make it difficult to follow a story. Look for ways around the overuse of dialect. You don’t want to completely get away from it, especially when setting stories in certain times and places, but don’t over use it to the point of turning off the reader.
  4. Don’t forget your tags.  Tags come in several ways. They are the simple – she said that follows the line spoken. They can also be used to tell how the sentence is spoken. She shouted is definitely going to be different that a simple said.  But you can also over use the tag too. Watch out for falling into the trap of using said on every tag. Sometimes you can do without any tag at all. And at times you can use an action tag that tells how she said something. 

“Don’t go in there!” The use of the exclamation point and even the warning can tell you she is probably sounding anxious or perhaps shouting. You might not need a tag here.

  1. Don’t lose sight of who is speaking. Sometimes in a group of characters speaking you do need tags after many lines to indicate who is speaking. If you have three or more people you need to make certain that the reader knows who is saying what. Again, this can be handled with an action tag at times, but don’t let your readers get lost in long periods of dialogue without making certain they know who is talking.

If you are uncertain about whether your dialogue is working, read the passages aloud. See how your characters sound and then let them keep on talking.  




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Recently I was talking to someone who wanted to try her hand at writing fiction, but she feared having to write dialogue. She said she could write passages of character description and location easily and she could even come up with ideas for scenes. But she feared having to make the characters speak.  As we continued to talk I began to show her how she could approach the problem.
“Think about what we’re doing,” I told her. “We’re sitting here.We’re drinking a glass of wine, and we’re talking.”
“But how would I do dialogue?” she asked. “How can I put words in other character’ mouths?”
I am repeating this conversation because that was my first lesson to her as I began to consider how to show her how to write dialogue.
11. Learn the proper punctuation and how dialogue is written in a passage. That is a good part of what was bothering her. She wasn’t certain of the formatting, and as I showed how it was done, that took away some of her misgivings.
2    2. Listen to other people’s conversation…