Writing Dialogue ~ Is 'He Said/She Said' Enough?


Although we're not likely to enjoy hearing this, dialogue may be the single most important aspect of any novel. Most editors will go directly to a dialogue portion of your manuscript before reading anything else. This is because the dialogue in your story will tell the editor whether it will be worth continuing, if you have a solid grasp of the English language, and how skilled you are as a writer.

It's no wonder most of us get stuck on the dialogue bits. So other than copying every great author you can think of (which isn't a terrible idea), what are some things you can do to create cleaner, more realistic dialogue between your characters?

Remember to listen to the way people talk, but also that your dialogue isn't going to be exactly the same. Your dialogue should be specific to the personalities of your characters – complete with their idiosyncrasies, and any colloquialisms that would be believable coming out of their mouths.

Be very careful using slang and stereotypes. If used properly, they can give depth to your characters and provide the reader with an accurate assessment of their mindset, beliefs, and even background. Used improperly however, slang and stereotypes can prove disastrous. I remember reading a Historic work of fiction and the author had the characters using the “F” word. It was completely unbelievable and ruined the story. Of course I never finished reading it.

It's okay to stick with 'he said' or 'she said'. The reason these two dialogue tags are perfectly acceptable is because you want your dialogue to sound natural and these tags can be distracting to readers if they get too wordy. Using adverbial tags, although fun, can also take away from the conversational feeling and forward momentum, that you're (hopefully) striving to achieve with your dialogue.

Show don't tell – ad nauseam. Seriously. Show. Don't. Tell.

Dialogue should be a way to reveal relationships between characters, increase drama and tension, and propel your story forward. Great dialogue is the best way to immerse your reader in the story by getting their attention and keeping it.

If you have some dialogue writing tips or resources that you have found helpful when writing your own story, please share them in the comments below.


  • Posted by Patricia Ross
  • January 5, 2015 7:00 AM PST




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