Posted by: Kathleen Mix | November 5, 2011

Five Dialogue Mis-speaks

When I see bad dialogue in a book, I’m immediately thrown out of the story. Dialogue can make up a third or more of a book, so it must sparkle to impress an editor or a reader. If you’re an aspiring writer, here are five common mistakes to avoid.

Empty exchanges

When characters speak, their exchanges should be meaningful. Several lines of “Hi.” “Hi, how are you?” “Fine, how are you?” add nothing to a story and bore readers. Use a summary dialogue line such as they exchanged pleasantries, and then dive into the meat of the conversation.

Direct address in excess

Beginning writers often try to avoid using he said by having characters call each other by name. “But Mary, I’ve paid for the tickets.” “I know that, John.” “You have to go, Mary.” Don’t. Real people do not use names frequently in conversations. Neither should your characters or they will seem stilted.

Telling adverbs

Instead of telling a character’s emotions with adverbial phrases in tags such as he said angrily, show the emotion in the characters words. Try: “Never in a million years, slimball.” We’ll get the picture.

Talking heads

Dialogue without action or a sense of environment is sterile. Plus the author misses an opportunity to deepen characterization and add subtext. A woman sipping wine late at night while conversing on the phone or a man talking quickly while rushing to dress gives a reader a clearer picture of their lives and relationship with the other person.

Insufficient tags

When conversations involve more than two characters, tags are essential to avoid confusion. If a reader loses track of who is speaking or attributes a line to the wrong character, the mood or effect the author was striving to create will be rapidly ruined.

Avoid these five common mistakes and your dialogue skills will improve. Good luck and happy writing!


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