Whether we’re crafting a short story, novel or play, one of the most powerful — and trickiest tools — in our kit bag is dialogue. Dynamic dialogue makes a story sizzle and gives it forward momentum; lackluster dialogue limps along. How can we inject drive in our dialogue and avoid rookie mistakes? A story in the Writer’sRelief.com newsletter offered some helpful do’s and don’ts:
Keep speeches short: If a character is delivering a pivotal speech, then an extended chunk of dialogue makes sense. But dialogue blocks should usually be pithy and concise — often no more than a few sentences. You can say a lot with a few well-chosen words.
Make each voice unique: Well developed characters will usually have subtle speech patterns that make them distinctive. While you can go overboard in giving each character a verbal tic, it’s important that the reader can easily spot a character’s way of speaking.
Use dialogue to suggest action: Instead of interrupting a chunk of dialogue with stage directions, you can use a snippet of dialogue to indicate actions. This keeps the story moving and doesn’t interrupt your story or readers’ attention.
Be dramatic: Dialogue is often the perfect vehicle for delivering a big insight or surprising confession, so use it to amp up the emotional drama in your story. But don’t make every speech a “To be or not to be” moment or you’ll wear out your readers. Make those big moments stand out and sparkle.
A few “don’ts” to steer clear of:
Too many adverbs: They can undercut your dialogue. Avoid sentences like, “I hate my life!” she said gloomily: You’re saying the same thing twice.
Getting creative with dialogue tags: In most cases, you want dialogue tags to just melt away, not attract attention. That’s why it can be best to stick with he or she “said” most of the time. Using tags like “moaned” or “laughed” can be problematic because people can’t talk and moan or laugh at the same time. You are either doing one or the other. On the flip side, using “said” constantly can be annoying. A reader should be able to figure out from the dialogue who’s saying what most of the time.
Using dialect: Unless you’re a master at this, it can backfire. Use it sparingly. A quick turn of phrase may be all you need to signal a speech pattern.
The words we put in our character’s mouths matter. So let’s choose them with care and write on!