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How To Write Better Dialogue

Updated on December 3, 2010

Great dialogue pulls the reader into your story. It reveals character, motivation, and emotion. As a follow up to Writing Great Dialogue, this article will concentrate on using silence to move your story forward and using action to replace descriptive dialogue tags.

When Writing Dialogue Don't Be Afraid Of Silence

When you choose to let your characters be silent, the scene still goes on. the silence has to be filled with the little things in life that continue, even when words are not being used. Looks are exchanged. Nervous gestures are made. Characters move around. This is a chance to show how your character feels without the use of words.

Using Action To Fill The Silence

Laura busied herself with the dishes, her back to John. "You owe me an explanation," he said, as he brought his empty cup to the sink. Laura took it from him without meeting his eyes. She dippedit into the water and started scrubbing at the rim. "Seriously, don't you think you owe me an explanation?" She held the cup under the stream of running water. "Laura." The cup slipped from her hands, shattering when it hit the bottom of the stainless steel sink.

He Said, She Said . . .

Don't be afraid of the word 'said'. In most cases it should be the only tag you use in your dialogue. If you are tempted to say he snarled, groaned, or stammered, stop yourself. What your character says, the pacing, and whether he is or isn't saying what he means, will all convey the emotion behind the words. Using anything other than 'said' can be intrusive and tends to take the emphasis away from the character's words.

He said, or she said, doesn't have to follow every line of dialogue. You can conveye who is speaking by inserting action into blocks of dialogue.

Dialogue Using Descriptive Tags

"We had a deal," Todd growled.

"I don't have it. What do you want from me?" Jim stammered.

"I want you to hold up your end of the bargain," Todd yelled back.

As you can see in this example, the tags are a bit distracting.

Dialogue Using Said

"We had a deal," Todd said.

"I don't have it. What do you want from me?" Jim said.

"I want you to hold up your end of the bargain," Todd said.

And this example is just boring.

Dialogue Using Action

"We had a deal." Todd said, taking a step closer and shoving the Ledger into his face.

"I don't have it." Jim turned and retreated across the room. "What do you want from me?"

Todd threw the book onto the table. "I want you to hold up your end of the bargain."

This example gives us emotion without being bogged down with dialogue tags.

Using silence and inserting action into your dialogue puts the emphasis onto what your character is saying and the emotions behind the words. It also serves to hide the writer's influence.  Give your characters the freedom to move the story forward.  Listen to them and they will guide you through to the end.


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  • profile image 5 years ago

    "Thank you for the helpful article," she said, staring at the computer screen as her fingers tapped away.

    She sighed. "I was so in need of this. I knew to use "said," but was actually afraid I was using too much showing in my dialogue. Now I know I'm not."

    Pushing enter, she turned from the screen, pulled her paper toward her, picked up her pen and began writing.