One of the biggest problem areas I encounter when I’m doing peer reviews or acting as a Judge on Reedsy.com is the way writers handle dialogue.
Dialogue is tricky to write – partly because the writer needs to find a voice for their character that is different from their own, AND partly because the punctuation for dialogue is special and needs to be learned.
When writing dialogue, it is important that your reader can identify WHO is speaking and be able to SEE the conversation taking place in the scene.
One way is to use speech tags (identifying who is speaking,) AND action tags (what the speaker is doing while speaking.)
I find when I’m writing a scene with dialogue that I need to use at least one or two speech tags to help the reader understand who is speaking, and I try to use a lot of action tags to ‘show’ what is going on in the scene as the characters are having their conversation.
Punctuation of dialogue includes using commas, quotation marks, periods, question marks and some exclamation marks (go easy on these.) (I will cover the punctuation more in-depth when in my Blogs on Grammar.)
“What do you want to do today,” said Sue.
“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything,” said Fred as he continued to thumb through his magazine.
“Put that thing down and talk to me.”
“What? Why should I put my magazine down just to discuss what we will or won’t do today. This conversation is the same every weekend.”
“Maybe that’s why we never do anything. You take absolutely no interest in the conversation or me.”
Fred put the magazine down. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. But, money is tight. I don’t know what we can do with zero cash. Do you?“
“We never have money, Fred. Other people still do things. I just can’t stand sitting here every single weekend.”
“How about we take a walk? That doesn’t cost anything.”
“Sure. Let’s go get our sneakers and venture out into the sunshine.”
Sue ran over to Fred and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you. Thank you for letting me know you hear me.”
“Anything and anytime. I love you. Don’t you ever forget that, ok?”
“Okay,” she said as she walked towards the closet to get her walking gear.
In your own writing, remember that great dialogue in fiction can do the following four things for your scene:
- Dialogue allows us to show conflict.
- Dialogue creates tension.
- Dialogue advances the story.
- Dialogue reveals character.
Try to make every piece of dialogue achieve one or more of these requirements.