Dialogue – handout

The Purposes of Dialogue

Move the story forward

“He got another bee under his hat. Time is important. Find the girls and get here pronto! My son will be on his way here as soon as he leaves his meeting in Damascus.”

Foreshadow events to come

“It’s time we did something about this nonsense. We can’t let Forever More disappear.”

Give information to the reader and other characters

“Destroy all evidence of fresh tire tracks.”

Reveal character details such as age, social class and upbringing

 “You don’t have a driver’s license. Haven’t had one for nearly ten years,” he reminded her through what sounded like gritted teeth. “You can’t be driving anyone anywhere. I mean it, Mom.”

Reveal character attitude problems by “showing” his mood

“I needed to apologize. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He chuckled. “You hung up on me last night.”

Give the reader a better understanding of the characters

“We should start with figuring out how to bring home some of our kids,” Dorothy suggested. “Or a specific niece of mine. Lorraine needs to settle down and town would be best for her.”

Differentiate between characters through speech patterns, attitudes, personality

Separate long pieces of descriptions

Fulfill an objective

Realistic Dialogue

  • Real people say random things. Realistic random dialogue could begin with the characters having a conversation about something random, and then circle around to the important parts of the plot.
  • Real people sometimes bicker. This rarely turns into full arguments.
  • Real people don’t talk for a long time. They are uncomfortable with being the only one talking for a long time.
  • Real people miss things in conversations. They may get distracted by something they hear or see going on around them during a conversation. They often ask, “What did you say?” or “Come again?”
  • Real people don’t always reply. Sometimes, someone will say something and wait for a response, and sometimes the other person doesn’t say anything.
  • Real people use nicknames. Don’t use whole names in normal dialogue.
  • Real people speak in tangents. They don’t only speak in complete sentences.
  • Real people exaggerate. They don’t exactly lie, but they may leave things out, or exaggerate to make themselves look better.
  • Real people talk when no one is listening. Even when people don’t reply, real people keep talking anyway.
  • Real people don’t talk at all. Sometimes, real people are too mad or too nervous or too sullen to talk.
  • Real people interrupt each other. They don’t always politely wait for the other speaker to finish talking.

Don’ts of Dialogue

  • Don’t make dialogue just idle chitchat.
  • Don’t overuse names.
  • Don’t include unnecessary niceties and formality.  “How are you today, Carol?”
  • Don’t overuse common speech filler words such as um, like, er, uh, or uh huh.
  • Don’t use slang or common words from the wrong time period. (wench, my lady, rock and roll)
  • Don’t have too many dialogue scenes in a row. The reader needs a break.
  • Don’t provide too many background details in conversation.
  • Don’t use dialogue to tell the readers things the characters already know.
  • Don’t overuse profanity and slang. And don’t use slang or common words from the wrong time period.

Mechanics of Writing Dialogue

  • Enclose dialogue with quotation marks.
  • Use a comma between the dialog and the tag line.
  • Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks.
  • Semicolons, question marks, dashes and exclamation points go outside the quotation marks, unless it directly pertains to the material within the quotes.
  • Set off an interrupted tag line by commas.
  • Set off a quotation within a dialog with single quotes.
  • Start a new paragraph with each new person speaking.
  • If a character speaks then performs some kind of action and then speaks again, this can be done in the same paragraph.

Dialogue Tags

  • Don’t use too many dialogue tags that veer from “he said/she said” because they draw attention away from what is being said.
  • Don’t overuse tags that end in adverbs (telling rather than showing).
  • Don’t use more than one dialogue tag per paragraph.