Free Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Dialogue

Dialogue is a crucial part of any story and moves the plot along in many ways: plot development, character traits, pacing, etc. Yet, if dialogue is so important, why is it often so hard?

Tips for Writing Dialogue

Listen to How People Talk

In order for dialogue to sound real, it should sound how real life people talk. Not everything will be a complete sentence, but there should be a clear thought. People don’t sound like textbooks or give long soliloquies unless they are a philosophy professor. Listen to how people talk to each other and keep that in mind when you write dialogue.

Simple is just Fine

There is no need to get overly fancy with dialogue. (See the above point.) It needs to fit with the character and reveal enough about that character to show his/her development. For example a teenager is not going to sound like a physics professor and vice-versa. Fancy dialogue can get distracting from what is actually being said.

Avoid Using Dialogue to Describe Action

This is such a pet peeve of mine when I read students’ stories. For example:

“Look at the smoke coming out of the mountain!” yelled Mark.
“The ground is shaking! Oh no, the volcano’s starting to erupt!” answered Peter.

Instead of using dialogue to reveal the characters thoughts and feelings, you use the dialogue to describe the action. This is dull and terrible writing. Please, don’t do that.

Avoid Using Dialect, Trendy Slang, or Excessive Attributions

Yes, some authors use dialect or slang in their writing, but honestly, I think it’s almost impossible to do well. Dialect can be hard to read, often confusing, and can take away from the pacing of the story. Slang is so trendy that it can immediately date your book or piece. Plus, the meaning of words can change over time. What was once socially acceptable, might be considered offensive in the future!

Dialogue attributions are words like: said, answered, asked, etc. In my opinion, “said” is always appropriate. “Said” is a word that kind of blends in and you don’t get an immediate distraction from the attribution; you just focus on the dialogue. Other words can be used like shouted, hollered, whispered, etc., but use them sparingly and make them count.

Tips for Punctuating Dialogue

  • Always enclose the words that are spoken in quotation marks: “Spoken words!
  • Punctuation for the spoken sentence goes within the quotation marks: “This is a sentence, so the period is within the quotation marks.”          
  • When including an attribution, the spoken sentence ends with  a comma within the quotation marks before including words like he said, she said with the period after the entire sentence: “Learn how to use dialogue,” Mrs. Free said.
  • When the spoken sentence is interrupted with a he said, she said, use commas to separate the spoken words: 

“If you learn how to use dialogue,” Mrs. Free said, “it will serve you well.”

  • Always indent and begin a new line when a new person is speaking:

“I like chocolate,” said Mrs. Free.

“I think caramel is better,” said the person who is wrong.

Keep in Mind

Dialogue should be interspersed with narrative describing the actions that are taking place.

You cannot assume the reader is seeing what you are seeing!

If you need helping with punctuating dialogue, check out my Dialogue Presentation that takes you through this information step by step!


Free Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: The Writing Process


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