So I felt it was high time I did another post about dialogue. You may have read my more comprehensive article on dialogue – How To Write Dialogue (pt.1).
If not, I do suggest you check it out because it’s got lots of tips and suggestions. This article will be shorter, just covering a few extra points. 🙂
I’m not sure who started the trend of this, but I’m seeing it in almost every self-published book I’ve read and it has to stop!
What am I talking about? The constant and obsessive use of character names during dialogue.
If you have two people talking, you should NOT need to have each of these characters say the other character’s name more than once.
If your dialogue is littered with one (or more) character(s) constantly saying the other character’s name as they are talking to them… stop it! it’s awful! It reads really poorly.
“Terry, we need to talk”
“Sure John, what about?”
“We need to discuss dad’s situation, Terry.”
“We are not putting him into a home John, he’s fine.”
Seriously… that shit is painful to read and sounds so wrong. As always, READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. I guarantee if you do, you will hear how strange it is for names to keep repeating.
This is actually done more in TV shows than books, but I’m seeing it creep into books. In fac,t it happens most in crime/detective/forensic shows.
This is where two experts will explain to each other what they are doing and what will happen.
Two forensic technicians do not need to discuss how luminol works
“Hand me the luminol”
“Are you checking for blood?”
“Yes, I’ll spray the luminol over the floor and when it reacts to the iron in the blood, it will glow blue and we will know she was murdered here.”
Now if this was dialogue between a random person and a forensic tech, you could understand this. The random person might not know how luminol works.
However, if you set this scene with two forensic techs… then this dialogue becomes pointless. While you may be telling the reader something, you are doing it all wrong.
Use narration to explain or throw in some random character to discuss this with or hell, just have them spray the chemical, see the glow and move on. If the reader is interested, they might look up luminol.
He said, she said
As I mentioned in my original Dialogue article, I don’t like to only use “said” as a dialogue tag. That’s personal preference and I love to include action tags. However, that does not mean I DON’T use “said.”
There is nothing wrong with “said'” it should be used, especially over any other word you might think to use in its place that isn’t necessary. You can use it as the only dialogue tag – works for some. You can use it mixed in with other tags. But use it!
If you try and find some other word to replace it, the flow will become stilted.
The only rule with it is don’t have it on every dialogue thread.
“Did you see which way he went?” Terry said, turning to his passenger.
“I think he turned back down that small road we passed earlier,” she said
“Damn, now we’ll never catch him,” he said.
Unnecessary, because not all that dialogue needed tags.
This is why I have an issue with huge speeches within dialogue, where one character just rambles on and on. What is worse than that, is THAT but all in one single paragraph. It becomes this huge block of text that is hard to get through.
If I come across blocks of text, I skip it. Could be the best thing you ever wrote, the crowning pinnacle of your writing prowess.
But I’ll skip down to where you’ve written actual normal sized paragraphs. It’s that simple.
We don’t like huge text blocks on blogs or articles online, we certainly don’t like it in books. Use paragraphs, use action, do something to break that up. Your readers will thank you for it.
Not knowing correct Punctuation
Make sure you get your punctuation correct. The best way to do this is to read widely, you start to pick it up.
Dialogue is put into double quotation marks ” ”
If you are quoting something within dialogue, then the quote goes in single quotation marks
“As they say, ‘It’s better to have loved and lost’, am I right?”
When dialogue thread ends with a dialogue tag, the dialogue needs to end with a comma. The full stop appears at the end of the dialogue tag (if this is indeed the end of the sentence.)
“There’s someone staring in your window,” Anna said.
When using a dialogue tag to break up a dialogue thread, you need a comma and then the end part of the dialogue thread should start with a lower case (because it’s still the middle of a sentence)
“This is nothing,” Sarah said, “compared to what is still to come.”
If your character has a lot to say (though remember my earlier huge paragraph comment!!) then it can be broken up into paragraphs.
In that case, the first paragraph of text does not end with quotation marks, just a full stop. Then the next paragraph starts with quotation marks. This indicates that the same person is still speaking rather than a new person speaking.
“There is nothing left to talk about, we will just have to keep pressing on until we reach the Dragon’s Teeth. It’s not as if we have enough supplies to make it back. So really, we can’t go back now, we just have to keep moving forwards.
“Besides, do you really want to trek back over that mountain again so soon?”
This is probably a terrible example, but it’s just to show that it’s still the same person talking.
Only at the end of the dialogue, when that person finishes, do you put the closing quotation marks.
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