Effective Dialogue--Rules of Thumb

 

Dialogue should always have a purpose.

Use dialogue to:

  • Show character
  • Distinguish each character
  • Show the relationship between characters
  • Impart information to the reader that would normally and naturally be talked about by the characters
  • Break up long stretches of narrative
  • Quicken the story pace
  • Foreshadowing future events

To ensure good dialogue:

  • Let the dialogue speak for itself
  • Keep the dialogue short
  • Make sure the reader knows who's talking by using speech tags, "gestures" [body language movements], his or her unique use of language, and direct address. Use the latter sparingly.

Avoid:

  • "-ly tagalongs" [adverbs tacked onto speech tags that tell the reader how to interpret the dialogue]
  • "Said-bookisms" [replacements for he said/she said speech tags; e.g., he expostulated]
  • "As-you-know-Bobs" [unnatural dialogue present only to convey info to the readers since the characters already know the info]
  • Dialogue without tension
  • portraying "ums", "ers", and other everyday conversation fillers
  • Too many direct name references (too much "direct address")
  • Uncharacteristic dialogue
  • Unnecessary dialogue
  • Excessive dialect
  • Repeating information in dialogue that's already been covered in narrative
  • Overdoing he said/she said speech tags 

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Copyright 1998 Rich Hamper 

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Last Updated:

Sunday, January 20, 2008