Dialogue, whether between main characters or not, provides your reader with a LOT of information:
- Describes a place or character
- Creates a sense of time
- Creates conflict or suspense
- Creates humour
- Moves the story forward
- Reveals a character’s thoughts and feelings
- Summarises what’s already happened or valuable back story (much better than including an information dump!)
- Creates a sense of place
- Brings characters to life, adds extra layers
- Keeps the reader on track and focussed, provides reminders of previous action
All of these reasons are why good dialogue doesn’t replicate real-life speech but must be more.
What are they? ‘Said’ is one. But it’s overused and not always needed.
“My back teeth are killing me,” Bob said. Fine, tells your reader what they need to know but it gets boring after a while.
“My back teeth are killing me,” Bob said.
“That’s too bad,” Robyn said.
“I know,” Bob said.
“It must be very painful,” Robyn said.
See? Boring. Try switching it up a little, keeping two things in mind:
- dialogue tags are NOT needed for every single line – your readers will know who’s talking
- replace ‘said’ with more descriptive words
“My back teeth are killing me,” moaned Bob.
“That’s too bad.” Robyn grimaced sympathetically.
“It must be very painful,” Robyn added.
This makes the dialogue flow more easily.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- a decent dialogue tag doesn’t overwhelm the dialogue (ie “My teeth hurt,” wailed and screamed Bob from the depth of his being.)
- a good tag sounds natural, not stilted. It shouldn’t pull your reader from the story because it sounds awkward.
- a solid dialogue tag never repeats what the dialogue has already told your reader
Sometimes you don’t need dialogue tags at all, as you saw in the earlier example when Robyn grimaced sympathetically instead of ‘saying’.
Bob grabbed the side of his swollen cheek and winced. “My back teeth are killing me.’
In this example, it’s still obvious who’s talking without the specific tag.
Dialogue and the use of tags are a powerful way to deliver a punch in your writing with a few words and little effort. A mix and match of including tags, excluding when it’s obvious who’s speaking, and actions all make your writing stronger!
I hope you found this helpful!
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