Monday, February 25, 2019

The Art of Dialogue by Brenda Chapman

This week’s question: Dialogue tags. Hints. Tips. Gripes.

Well maybe not exactly a question.

To be honest, my dialogue use continues to be a work in progress. Looking back, I believe that I didn't use enough dialogue in my earliest books. Best sellers usually have quite a bit of dialogue, and I enjoy reading books with a lot of conversation among characters, so this is a part of novel-writing that I've worked to get more comfortable using.

So dialogue tags are prompts that tell us which character is speaking.

I've learned some tricks with dialogue, including dialogue tags, that I'll pass along to you in a list. My fellow bloggers this week will likely have more to add, so check in daily!

1.  Get to the pith of the conversation quickly. Do not let your characters chat as we do in real life, or you'll lose the reader.

2.  Following on point one, have a reason for each conversation - moving the plot forward, revealing character, creating conflict ... 

3.  Steer away from using action verbs. The best advice I received is that 'said' and 'asked' disappear into the sentence and do not detract as other verbs can. I might use the odd 'cried' or 'whispered', but these are the exception.

4. Show, don't tell - this is true even in conversation. Adverbs are a telling device rather than a showing one so use them sparingly.

5.  Make sure that you are clear who is speaking. It does bother me when I have to reread to figure out which character said what. I've read that the rule of thumb is five lines of dialogue without a dialogue tag when two two characters are having a conversation. I tend to go fewer.

6. Use description rather than a dialogue to prompt who is speaking. For example, rather than: "I'd like to go with you," she said, try: "I'd like to go with you." She stood and grabbed onto my arm.

7.  As with description, keep each character's lines brief. Don't overwhelm with too much information.

8.  While using local dialect can differentiate characters and help to paint a picture, too much is distracting. Use as sparingly as adverbs.

9.  Use humour in dialogue to make characters come alive. It should sound natural though and not be overused.

10. Sometimes, what characters don't say can be as interesting as what they say.

Twitter: brendaAchapman
Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor


Susan C Shea said...

These are such good tips, Brenda, that I hope many beginning authors get the benefit of your advice. I too have learned a lot about dialogue over the years and I think you've nailed it. Great post!

7 Criminal Minds said...

Thanks Susan!