Writer’s Block: Dialogue

  1. Formatting Rules
  2. Every time someone new speaks you start a new paragraph – even when a character only says one word!
  3. These new paragraphs are always indented – except if it’s the start of a chapter or after a scene break, as these first lines are never indented.
  4. Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks! This is so the reader knows how the dialogue is said.
  5. Long speeches – several paragraphs long – don’t get end quotations. However, the next new paragraph will still begin with quotation marks.
  6. If the person speaking is quoting someone – use single quotes to mark it. IE – “I know I’m in trouble when my wife says ‘I’m fine’!”

Top 5 Tips

1) Say the dialogue out loud

Hearing what someone is supposed to be saying out loud will help you determine if it actually sounds natural. Keep in mind that dialogue in writing has to remain purposeful and will often have more weight than normal conversations. Even so, it should still sound like something someone might actually say, even if it is a little melodramatic.

Questions to ask when reading out loud

  1. Would someone say this in real life?
  2. Does it develop character or the plot?
  3. Is it easy to say or do you fumble?
  4. Do you pause where you don’t have commas (if this happens add commas where you want readers to pause so they know how you mean it to be read!)?

If needed – record yourself and listen back to your reading. Read it out loud the way you want your characters to sound. This will help you spot things that sound out of place on a character by character basis.

2) Cut out small talk

No one cares what your characters had for dinner unless somehow that information is vital to the plot. Adding small talk slows down your pacing and causes unnecessary effort on the part of your reader. The only exception is when you are showing character development by using small talk to show said character avoiding talking about something – this is called a literary device and sets the mood or tone.

3) Add world-building slang

Slang is every where in the real world. The type of slang we choose to use informs a great deal about the area of the world we come from, the people we hang out with, the things we are interested in, even sometimes reflective of our socio-economic standing. Build slang into your world and let your characters use it to reflect who they are and create a more in-depth environment in which they live.

4) Be consistent with voice

The way a character speaks is in itself a characteristic of that character. If they are a high strung person with paranoia they may speak in short, choppy sentences. If they are a streetwise kid they might use a lot of slang that is unintelligible to their elders. The point being these stylistic choices need to be maintained through out the book.

5) Remember who they’re speaking to

This is the exception to the consistency with voice rule. You don’t speak the same way around every single person. Your voice and style will change depending on who you are interacting with. Someone might be very lax and use a lot of slang with friends but be hoity toity when speaking with their employer or a member of an elite group of some kind. Or it could be as simple as the difference between the covert looks that make up most of the communication between secret lovers and the spelled out conversations one of them has with their parents.

Things to Avoid

Don’t use the character’s name over and over again – people do not do this in real life, do not do it in your book!

Info-dumping – it gets really boring when every time someone opens their mouth there are lengthy explanations happening. Worldbuilding should be a gradual showing and not so much a telling.

Repetitive dialogue styles – this can be as simple as changing up where in the dialogue you stick your tags. Don’t always start or end dialogue with a tag, or even always place them in the middle, it gets old quick. Variation is key.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.