Monday, October 17, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part X ~ Dialogue Do's and Don'ts

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the eighth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we went over showing vs. telling and active vs. passive writing. This week, we'll take a look at dialogue.

Speaker Tags: said, asked, yelled. These are speaker tags. They designate who is speaking, especially when there are more than two characters in a conversation.

When using speaker tags, don't use words like "laughed," "cried," or "growled." Keep it simple. Said is the best. "Asked" goes well with question marks, but you could also use "said" with question marks. Use "yelled" before you use an exclamation point (use a period instead). But people can't cry words. Nor can they laugh words. If your character needs to laugh or cry, use a speaker beat.

Speaker Beats: When our characters do something between dialogue sentences, we use speaker beats. It's better for the reader, especially if you have a bunch of back-and-forth dialogue, if we use speaker beats to designate who's speaking because it gives the reader an idea of what is happening in the story.

For example:
Mariah laughed. "You've got to be kidding me." She tossed the book onto the table and shook her head. "There's no way I can finish that in one night. What was she thinking assigning us Great Expectations on such short notice?"
Elizabeth picked up the book and flipped through it with a frown. "Yeah. There's no way I can read that overnight, and I'm a speed reader."

What you don't want to do is use a dialogue tag with a beat. There's no point in using the tag.
For example:
James stood and said, "I don't think we need to read the whole thing. Let's go to Barnes and Noble and get the Cliffnotes."
We know he said the sentence if he stood just before he said it.
James stood. "I don't think we need to read the whole thing. Let's go to Barnes and Noble and get the Cliffnotes."

Talking Heads: Using speaker tags and speaker beats helps us avoid having talking heads in our novels. Talking heads are characters that go back and forth with dialogue, leaving the reader wondering who is saying what. If you have more than a few lines of dialogue between two characters without a tag or beat, you have talking heads. If you have multiple lines of dialogue between more than two people, and your readers have no idea who's saying what, you have talking heads.

Dialect: When using dialect to notify your reader of a particular way of speaking, use it just enough in the first chapter that the reader catches on. Then revert to using normal dialogue for the rest of the novel. Otherwise, the dialect will slow down the reader.

Casualties: Don't use the casualties. When your character answers the phone, we don't have to hear them say hello. They don't need to ask how the other person is doing. They don't need to say goodbye. Get right into the conversation. In other words, get to the point.

Dialogue Do's and Don'ts {Click to Tweet}

What's the difference between a speaker beat and a tag? Dialogue tips via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

1 comment:

  1. It seems like speaker beats make dialogue more showing than telling since you can see or hear what they're doing. Is there any time it's better to use a speaker tag?


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