Self-Editing Tip: Dialogues in Fiction

Dialogues in fiction writing is a vast topic. So much so, that whole books have been written on this topic. It would’ve been a folly to cover everything about dialogues in a single blog post, so I thought of giving you a handy checklist instead–something you can use every time you sit down with your red pen to edit dialogues in your fiction manuscript. Here it is:

Dialogue in Fiction: A Checklist

  • Dialogue in fiction has three purposes: increase tension, advance plot, and reveal character. If your dialogue doesn’t do either of these, cut it off.
  • Use dialogue to miscommunicate. Have characters lie. What is left unsaid or hinted at increases conflict.
  • Give your characters different voices. Have them chose different words, and speak with varying rhythms and styles. Make sure not all the characters in your book sound alike. Use appropriate words for your character, for example kids speak differently than adults.
  • Don’t explain everything. Dialogue isn’t like real world conversation.
  • Dialogue isn’t fluff; it’s important communication between characters.
  • Avoid repetition of character names after each uttered sentence. What’s being said should be distinct enough to leave no doubt as to who’s speaking. That said, if the dialogues go on for some length, use character names here and there so as not to leave your reader confused.
  • Keep your dialogues tight. In real life, people hesitate, use words like ums and ers. In fiction, skip these pointless words.
  • Allow characters to speak over one another, cutting off each other’s words. Just like it happens in real life.
  • Limit dialogue tags to the basics of said and asked.
  • Don’t have pages and pages of dialogue. Alternate it with action, description, and narration. Don’t permit characters to speak at length without interruption, whether it’s by another character or an action or some description. Give the characters some actions while they speak.
  • Don’t use dialogue to preach your pet message.
  • And, Punctuate dialogue correctly.

Here’s an infographic that you can download to help you remember correct punctuation for dialogues.

Punctuating Dialogue.

Further Reading:

  1. Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee.
  2. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell.
  3. Writing Vivid Dialogue: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer’s Craft Book 16) by Rayne Hall.
  4. Internal Dialogue (Busy Writer’s Guides Book 7) by Marcy Kennedy.
  5. Self-Edit Your Fiction Like a Pro. Get your free copy by subscribing to my newsletter.

Some writers excel at writing dialogues. Others have to work really hard to get it just right. Which category are you in? Let me know in the comments.

Coming up: E for Endings. Stay tuned.
– Dola.

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