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How to Use Dialogue Tags Properly

Since dialogue belongs to the characters, the narrator’s remarks can sometimes spoil it. However, they become necessary in a long conversation or in a dialogue with many members. If you want to know how to use them, here is a list of helpful tricks:

how to write dialogue

1. Brevity is the soul of wit.

As readers, we all are used to expressions such as “said John,” “asked Mary,” or “replied Sue,” but they should be used carefully because they slow down the reading pace. The same goes for adverbs or unnecessary explanations. As an example, look at this dialogue:

“Pass me the salt,” said the father dryly.
“Here you are,” said the girl, passing him the salt.
“How was school today?” asked the mother mechanically.
“A writer has given us a talk,” answered the girl enthusiastically.

You can see the conversation above is dull and not at all spontaneous. It lacks rhythm, and it won’t keep the readers engaged. Instead of using adverbs to indicate the characters’ moods, make sure your protagonists have their own voice.

2. Keep it simple.

In order to avoid repeating the words “said” and “answered,” some writers create a catalogue of synonyms that make the reading more difficult. As the American writer Elmore Leonard stated, “It’s far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ‘she asseverated’, and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.”

3. Use vocatives.

Vocatives show who’s talking or who a character is speaking to. As a result, they save us from resorting to the typical “she told him.” Here are some examples:

“Pass me the salt.”
“Here you are, Dad.”
“How was school today?” asked Mother.
“A writer gave us a talk!”

Thanks to vocatives like “Dad,” the narrator’s comments can be limited to the mother’s line of dialogue. Nevertheless, don’t overuse them, or your dialogues won’t be natural.

4. Every Jack has his Jill…

…and every character has a voice. For example, a character’s favorite words or dialogue phrases can allow the readers to identify him or her without hesitation. If you achieve this, the narrator’s intrusion will become less necessary, but don’t go to the extreme of creating a very peculiar voice for each of your protagonists.

5. Describe the scene.

If a dialogue is too long, you can insert a short contextual description of the characters and setting in the middle of it. These descriptions can also be used to introduce new lines of dialogue. However, you must bear in mind that this technique slows down the action (which may be the best choice in some cases). Let’s see how a description can improve the sample dialogue:

“Pass me the salt.”
“Here you are, Dad”
The mother avoided her husband’s gaze and looked at her child who was enjoying her lunch unaware of the tension between her parents.
“How was school today?”
“A writer gave us a talk!”

This simple example illustrates how you can provide a context for the dialogue which will make the experience more enjoyable for your readers.

Happy Writing!

Related posts:

How to Choose the Setting of Your Story
Four Key Story Elements: Summary, Plot, Structure and Suspense
How to Write a Short Story

1 comentario

  1. 1. Maximus dice:

    I’ve come across more common sense for good writing here than anywhere else. Keep it. Excellent writers tool!!


    Escrito el 11 March 2015 a las 18:41

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